Sleepiness is a common cause of traffic crashes with a cost of billions of dollars per year. A recent study has found that 2 to 3% of drivers are habitually sleepy while driving. However, there has not been a controlled study to define the characteristics, driving performance, or automobile crash rate of habitually sleepy drivers. The prevalence of respiratory disorders during sleep, and whether these respiratory disorders contribute to the increased automobile crash frequency, is unknown in habitually sleepy drivers. We interviewed 4,002 randomly selected drivers to define the prevalence of drivers who are habitually sleepy while driving. We studied the habitually sleepy drivers and an age- and sex-matched control group of drivers. These studies included reporting of daytime sleepiness, automobile crashes, driving performance and sleep studies. Of the 4, 002 drivers interviewed, 145 (3.6%, confidence interval [CI] = 3.1 to 4.3) were habitually sleepy while driving. The habitually sleepy drivers reported a significantly higher frequency of auto crashes than control subjects (the adjusted odds ratio [OR] was 13.3, CI = 4. 1 to 43). The habitually sleepy drivers had a significantly higher prevalence of respiratory sleep disorders than control subjects. For a total respiratory events index (apneas, hypopneas, and other respiratory effort-related arousals) >/= 15 the adjusted OR was 6.0, CI = 1.1 to 32. In the habitually sleepy drivers group, the frequency of sleep apnea (apnea-hypopnea index) between subjects with or without auto crashes was not statistically different. However, if we consider total respiratory events index, this frequency of respiratory sleep disorders was significantly higher in subjects with automobile crashes (the adjusted OR for a total respiratory event index >/= 15 was 8.5, CI = 1.2 to 59). Habitually sleepy drivers are a large group of drivers (1 of 30 drivers) who are involved in several fold more automobile crashes than control subjects. As these excess auto crashes can be explained in part by the presence of respiratory disorders during sleep, which are treatable, many automobile crashes in these sleepy drivers may be preventable. Our findings suggest that asking about excessive sleepiness while driving may better predict which subjects with breathing disorders during sleep have crashes than asking about overall sleepiness.