Falling asleep while driving is a significant public health problem, leading to tens of thousands of automobile accidents every year in the United States. It has been known that in the US, blacks and Hispanics are at higher risk of drowsy driving than whites, but the reasons for this disparity have not been clear. Using data from over 190,000 drivers, we examined whether impaired access to healthcare, alcohol use, risk-taking behavior, or sleep characteristics explained the drowsy driving difference. We found that after adjustment for age, sex, and medical history, black and Hispanic drivers had a 2-fold increased risk of drowsy driving compared to whites. Adjustment for access to healthcare, alcohol use, and risk-taking behavior did not significantly change the size of the disparity. However, sleep characteristics explained about half of the excess drowsy driving risk in blacks compared to whites. On average, blacks get poorer sleep than whites in the US. Our findings show that this disparity has potentially deadly consequences, and should encourage clinicians and the general public to have increased sensitivity to identifying racial disparities in sleep health.
Genuardi MV, Althouse AD, Sharbaugh MS, Ogilvie RP, Patel SR. Exploring the mechanisms of the racial disparity in drowsy driving. Sleep Health. In press. Epub 2018 Apr 24. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2018.04.003.