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Drowsy driving plays a role in nearly eight times more severe accidents than federal estimates suggest, according to study released Thursday by the car and travel group AAA.

By studying dashboard video from 700 accidents, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 9.5% of all crashes involved drowsy drivers, based on the portion of time the drivers’ eyes were closed in the minutes before a crash. The portion grows to 10.8% in more severe crashes.

Federal estimates suggested drowsiness was a factor in only 1 to 2 percent of crashes.

“Drowsy driving is a bigger traffic safety issue than federal estimates show,” said David Yang, the foundation’s executive director. “Drivers who don’t get enough sleep are putting everyone on the road at risk.”

The risks of drowsy driving include driving across lanes or not remembering the last few miles driven, according to AAA. Strategies for longer trips include taking a break from driving every couple of hours, taking turns driving with an alert passenger or pulling into a rest stop for a 20-minute nap.

But AAA experts say tactics such as drinking coffee, singing or rolling down the window won’t keep a driver alert.

“Don’t be fooled, the only antidote for drowsiness is sleep,” said William Van Tassel, AAA’s manager of driver training. “Your body’s need for sleep will eventually override your brain’s attempts to stay awake.”

The problem is common. About 35 percent of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended seven hours per night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly all drivers in a survey told the AAA Foundation they view drowsy driving as a serious threat, but 29 percent admitted driving in the previous month when they had trouble keeping their eyes open.

“As many Americans struggle to balance their busy schedules, missing a few hours of sleep each day can often seem harmless,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “But missing just two to three hours of sleep can more than quadruple your risk for a crash, which is the equivalent of driving drunk.”

Amanda St. Amand • 314-340-8201

@mandystlpd on Twitter

astamand@post-dispatch.com

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