A team of sleep professionals and colleagues from Stony Brook University share results from their drowsy driving prevention website and social media campaign.
Drowsiness impairs driving abilities and is a real danger and a public health concern. Drowsiness is linked with reduced reaction time, attentiveness, and decision-making skills, even if a driver manages to stay awake.1 The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 91,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year—with nearly 800 deaths and 50,000 injuries.2 In New York state, drowsy driving contributed to 4,520 crashes, 25 fatalities, and 2,175 injuries in 2014.3
The incidence of drowsy driving is difficult to measure and there is agreement that it is both underreported and underestimated. Contributing factors to inconsistencies include lack of physical evidence, limited protocols, insufficient data collection, and not enough training for law enforcement.4 United States government statistics report that between 1-2% of all motor vehicle crashes are attributed to drowsiness.2 However, recent research using in-vehicle dash cams found the scope of the issue to be significantly higher. A large study using a percent time of eye closure measure to assess drowsiness found that about 10% of crashes involved drowsiness.5
Certain populations at high risk of driving drowsy include drivers under the age of 25 years; people with undiagnosed sleep disorders; shift workers; commercial drivers (such as truck and bus drivers); and people who are sleep deprived, such as new parents or caregivers of infants and young children.6 According to Amy Stracke, managing director of traffic safety advocacy for the American Automobile Association, “over one-fifth of all fatal crashes involve driver drowsiness and just missing two hours of sleep can quadruple a driver’s crash risk.”7
Faculty affiliated with Stony Brook University’s School of Health Technology and Management (SHTM) with backgrounds in sleep diagnostics, respiratory care, social work, and public health recognized that drowsy driving was particularly problematic in the local area and throughout New York and that public awareness about the danger was limited. To address the issue of drowsy driving, the authors of this article partnered with the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee (GTSC) to develop an interactive and educational website, stopdrowsydriving.org, and launched a prevention of drowsy driving social media campaign.
The campaign strategies included using social media platforms to drive users to the website, where they are prompted to take a sleepiness quiz to learn their individualized sleep score and discover their likelihood of falling asleep in low stimulus environments. The team integrated the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, a validated tool utilized in most sleep centers, as a standard to measure subjective sleepiness.8 After receiving their results, the site provides feedback that helps the user connect their sleep score to their risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. Stopdrowsydriving.org also promotes strategies to suggest positive changes to sleep habits in an effort to reduce the risk of drowsy driving. Educational content includes myths and facts about drowsy driving, at-risk populations, tips for better sleep, and strategies for prevention of falling asleep while driving.
The project culminated with an intense social media campaign launched in November 2017 through Facebook and Twitter in conjunction with Drowsy Driving Awareness month and supported by funding from the Governors Highway Safety Association and the National Road Safety Foundation (NRSF). The campaign was featured in November 2017 on www.sleepreviewmag.com, the website for trade media outlet Sleep Review.9
According to performance metrics, Facebook posts associated with the social media campaign reached 17,041 people throughout the United States, with the majority being from New York. The website, stopdrowsydriving.org, was accessed by over 2,333 people throughout all four weeks of the campaign. Users came from 30 states, including numerous states on the east coast. Five hundred eighty-four people (25.1%) used the website quiz to assess their sleepiness and learn their risk of falling asleep at the wheel. The team was quite surprised at the user profile demographics. Of those who took the quiz, the majority (59%) were over 55 years old. About one-quarter of these users had moderate to severe sleepiness scores and approximately 35% reported moderate to high levels of sleepiness while watching TV, sitting and reading, and as a passenger in a car for an hour without a break.
The collaboration between Stony Brook University’s SHTM and GTSC has offered a unique approach to ongoing efforts at addressing drowsy driving. The stopdrowsydriving.org website and subsequent prevention of drowsy driving social media campaign were effective in raising awareness about the dangers of drowsy driving, both locally and nationally, and targeting a high risk population of drivers. The Prevention of Drowsy Driving team members were invited to present their project development and outcome measures to the NRSF during a webinar aimed at encouraging other states to develop and promote strategies at addressing this important public health issue.
Future programs should be focused on targeting other high-risk groups, including males, truck drivers, shift workers, and younger drivers. Additional funding could be used for improved marketing and utilization of platforms, such as Snapchat and Instagram, that are especially relevant to high risk groups like young adults. A greater collaboration with state agencies, such as law enforcement, schools, hospital organizations, and the trucking industry could be particularly useful to expand the reach of the social media campaign and have a greater impact on the public health issue of drowsy driving. The Prevention of Drowsy Driving team seeks to continue to change cultural norms on sleep deprivation by engagement and education on the need for adequate and restorative sleep as we link drowsy driving to the 4 D’s of driving impairment: drunk, drugged, distracted, and drowsy.
Prevention of Drowsy Driving team members include Lisa M. Endee, MPH, RRT-SDS, RPSGT, RST (PI), Erik Flynn, MS, Pamela Linden, PhD, Anna Lubitz, MPH, MBA, Russell Rozensky, MS, RRT-SDS, CPFT, RPSGT, Stephen G. Smith, MPA, RT, RRT. The authors would also like to thank Chris Pervelis and Sonia Bellem from CGP Creative for their expertise and services in creation of the stopdrowsydriving.org website.
This project was supported by funding from the Governors Highway Safety Association and the National Road Safety Foundation.
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Drowsy Driving — 19 States and the District of Columbia, 2009–2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2013 January 4;61(51 & 52): 1033-7.
2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drowsy Driving (2017 statistics). Available at www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drowsy-driving.
3. New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. Summary of Motor Vehicle Crashes: 2014 Statewide Statistical Summary. Available at https://dmv.ny.gov/statistic/2014-nyscrashsummary.pdf
4. Governors Highway Safety Association (2016). Wake Up Call! Understanding Drowsy Driving and What States Can Do. Available at www.ghsa.org/issues/drowsy-driving
5. Owens JM, Dingus TA, Guo F, et al. Prevalence of drowsy driving crashes: Estimates from a large-scale naturalistic driving study. 8 Feb 2018. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Available at http://aaafoundation.org/prevalence-drowsy-driving-crashes-estimates-large-scale-naturalistic-driving-study
6. National Sleep Foundation. Drowsy driving: Who’s at risk? Accessed at http://drowsydriving.org/about/whos-at-risk
7. Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. You snooze, you lose, Florida! Don’t drive drowsy. 2017 Aug 31. Available at www.flhsmv.gov/2017/08/31/snooze-lose-florida-dont-drive-drowsy
8. Johns MW. A new method for measuring daytime sleepiness: the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. Sleep. 1991 Dec;14(6):540-5.
9. Stony Brook University launches stopdrowsydriving.org. Sleep Review. 8 Nov 2017. Accessed at www.sleepreviewmag.com/2017/11/stony-brook-university-launches-stopdrowsydriving-org