AAHS Submits Comment on Possible Iowa Rest Area Closures

September 13, 2019

The American Alliance for Healthy Sleep (AAHS) recently submitted comments on the Iowa Department of Transportation's (DOT) Rest Area Plan, which proposes to close a significant number of Iowa highway rest areas over the next several years. In the submitted comments, the AAHS urged the Iowa DOT to reconsider closure of rest areas that would eliminate opportunities for regular travelers as well as truck drivers to safely rest from the road.

Driver fatigue is well-documented as a major contributing cause for highway accidents. Even if the driver does not fall asleep, drowsiness affects a driver’s ability to pay attention to the road leading to slower reaction times and an impaired ability to make good decisions. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drowsy driving is related to at least 100,000 crashes and more than 1,500 deaths each year. More severe drowsy driving accidents usually occur on highways and major roadways as speeds are higher, and drivers have longer stretches without a break.

Fewer rest stops may increase drowsy driving among travelers and truck drivers as travelers must drive further distances to find a safe place to stop and/or rest. A 1998 study found that the probability of a nighttime, single-vehicle accident increases exponentially when the distance between rest areas increases beyond 30 miles. Although the Iowa DOT's proposed closures would still allow for approximately one-hour’s drive time or less between rest areas, ideally drivers should have the opportunity to stop every half hour to reduce risk of nighttime accidents. A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study indicated that 31% of fatal crashes involving heavy trucks can be attributed to driver fatigue.  A recent (2019) study found that commercial vehicle fatigue-related crashes were more likely to occur when rest areas were 20 miles or further from the site of the crash. Eliminating the availability of safe parking, whether at parking only or full-service rest areas, only serves to exacerbate driver fatigue.

Closure of rest areas negatively affects public safety as well as the sleep health and wellbeing of drivers and others using affected highways.