BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- You know that driving while intoxicated can cost you your license or even your life, but did you know that "driving while drowsy" plays a role in one-sixth of all fatal car accidents?
"People know that drunk driving is dangerous and [socially] unacceptable, but drowsy driving is a much more gray area. Drivers tend to underestimate its danger and overestimate their ability to deal with it," says Bruce Hamilton of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which recently polled more than 2,300 Americans about the issue.
Some 28.3% of respondents admitted to driving drowsy at least once in the 30 days before taking the survey, including 19% who reported doing so more than a single time. Two percent even conceded to getting behind the wheel "fairly often" or "regularly" while drowsy during the month before taking the survey.
Hamilton says that's bad given that AAA researchers estimate drowsy driving plays a role in 16.5% of fatal car crashes, 13.1% of auto accidents that involve hospitalizations and 7% of incidents where vehicles require towing.
He says studies have found that worn-out drivers sometimes unknowingly take "micro-sleeps," involuntary naps that last just a few seconds but long enough for accidents to occur.
"I think people don't fully appreciate the effect that drowsiness can have on their driving," Hamilton says. "They believe that they can still drive safely, but our research shows that they can't."
In fact, the expert says drowsy driving is so dangerous that vehicle operators need to recognize its symptoms and pull over -- fast.