As parents we are intensely focused on the deadly combination of teen drinking and driving. We invite speakers into our schools to address our children about impaired driving and we worry about our children drinking and driving, texting and driving and generally distracted driving. In my home state of New Jersey until the age of 17 a young driver may not drive with more than one passenger unless an adult (someone over 21) is in the car with them, ostensibly to protect them from being distracted by their peers while they’re driving.

We urge our children to either call us or to take an Uber home if they have been drinking and there are numerous public service campaigns warning against texting while driving. But there is an equally dangerous phenomenon, not just for teens but for all of us, which gets short shrift but which is equally, if not more dangerous than other types of impaired driving. With so many of our children about to return home from school for winter break, we need to pay close attention to a newly released AAA study which implicates driving while sleepy in many crashes.

Missing 1-2 Hours of Sleep Doubles Crash Risk

As Dr. David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety states, “You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel…Our new research shows that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.”

Here’s an eye-opening chart:

  • Six to seven hours of sleep: 1.3 times the crash risk
  • Five to six hours of sleep: 1.9 times the crash risk
  • Four to five hours of sleep: 4.3 times the crash risk

Less than four hours of sleep: 11.5 times the crash risk

Moreover, young drivers are more likely to drive while drowsy. A survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in 2012 found that “one in seven licensed drivers between the ages of 16-24 admitted to having nodded off at least once while driving in the past year as compared to one in ten of all licensed drivers who confessed to falling asleep during the same period.”

A 2010 AAA Foundation study of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash data estimated that young drivers between the ages of 16-24 were 78% more likely to be drowsy at the time of the crash than drivers aged 40-59 and that one in six deadly crashes involve a drowsy driver, making it one of the leading contributors to traffic accidents.

So, as many of our children prepare to hit the road to return home for the holidays here a few suggestions for them from AAA for staying safe:

  • Get plenty of sleep (at least seven hours) the night before a long trip
  • Avoid travelling at times you would normally be sleeping
  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
  • Avoid heavy foods
  • Travel with a companion and take turns driving

Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment

Pass this very important information along to your children, tell them to drive safely and have a very happy holiday.

Helene Wingens

Mother of 3 boys, wife, daughter, friend - sometimes writer, retired lawyer. 50 is in the rear view mirror. Trying to figure out if there is a second act and if so, what is it? Part of that effort includes blogging at . Her writing can be found on a number of online publications including, The Forward,, Club Mid,,,,, and the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop (