Drowsy drivers have an accident rate that can be as high as what drunk drivers experience.

Almost everybody knows that driving drunk is incredibly dangerous and most people are careful to never get behind the wheel if they are impaired by alcohol. However, drowsy driving is a different story. While most people recognize that driving while sleepy is dangerous, many people nonetheless admit to having gotten behind the wheel after not having gotten enough sleep. Now, as CBS News reports, a new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is finally casting light on just how deadly drowsy driving can be, with drowsy drivers having a motor vehicle accident rate similar to what drunk drivers experience.

How prevalent is drowsy driving?

Drowsy driving is highly prevalent, with a third of Americans admitting to having gotten behind the wheel while being too tired to drive. That figure dovetails with another study that found that one third of Americans overall do not get enough sleep on a regular basis. Sleep and safety experts say that people - and especially drivers - should get at least seven hours of sleep per night.

With so many drowsy drivers on the road, it should come as no surprise that these drivers are causing thousands of preventable injuries and deaths every year. According to NPR, an estimated 20 percent of all fatal traffic accidents in the U.S. are caused by drowsy drivers. Overall, there was a total of 35,092 traffic deaths in 2015, which was a dramatic 7.2 percent increase from the year before.

So how dangerous is drowsy driving?

Given the prevalence and risk posed by drowsy drivers, it is important to understand how lack of sleep actually affects one's driving abilities. A recent AAA study is shedding light on precisely this problem. That study looked at data from police-reported crashes in which either at least one vehicle was towed or emergency medical personnel had to be called.

That study found that losing one to two hours of sleep led to double the crash risk for drivers compared to drivers who got more than seven hours of sleep. Meanwhile, drivers who lost three to four hours of sleep the night before had a crash rate four times higher than normal - that was the same as though they were driving while drunk.

What to do after a wreck?

Drivers need to be careful when they are on the road, especially with so many drowsy and dangerous motorists posing a threat to public safety. Anybody who has been involved in a car accident should get in touch with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help accident victims understand what steps they can take moving forward, including possibly pursuing financial compensation.