Study: Most Fatigued Drivers Don’t Know How to React to Sleepiness

A recent study by Ireland’s Road Safety Authority found that 66% of drivers do not know how to fight sleepiness behind the wheel, and the methods used by many could be putting them and other drivers at risk. While the study included just Irish drivers, its conclusions are relevant for drivers the world over. The organization says that rolling down windows, stopping and stretching, or singing along to the radio do nothing to help combat fatigue, and that drivers should never get behind the wheel when they are overtired.

Hazards of Fatigued Driving

The U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that drowsy driving leads to many avoidable automobile crashes every year. Because there are no tests to determine that a driver is overtired, it is sometimes difficult to determine when an auto accident is the result of a fatigued driver. However, drowsy driving accidents often have similar characteristics, which include:

  • Crashes that occur during late night or early morning hours, although they do occasionally occur during mid afternoon.
  • Crashes that are often serious.
  • Crashes in which single vehicles leave the roadway.
  • Crashes that occur on high-speed roads.
  • Crashes in which the driver is the only occupant in the vehicle.

Young people, especially males between the ages of 16 to 29, shift workers, and people with untreated sleep disorders (such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea) form the groups most likely to drive when fatigued.

Dealing with Fatigued Driving

Many drivers who feel themselves growing sleepy behind the wheel of a car use various methods to keep themselves awake, yet according to the study conducted by the Road Safety Authority, these methods are rarely successful at reducing risk. The study found that 31% of those surveyed open the window when they feel sleepy behind the wheel, while almost 13% say they stop and stretch their legs. 8% say they sing or talk to themselves while another 5% say they turned on the radio; tactics that the agency says do not combat fatigue. Instead, the agency suggests stopping the car and drinking a cup of coffee or caffeinated drink if that is the only option. An even better suggestion is to take a 15- to 20-minute nap, and then walk around the car, stretching. This will often allow the driver to travel another hour safely.

Need to Address Fatigued Driving

It is critical for drivers to be aware when they are too tired to drive, as fatigued driving can be as dangerous as driving under the influence. Reaction time is diminished, information processing is inhibited, and the driver is less vigilant and tends to drive more aggressively.

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