Driver Fatigue and Road Accidents

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Driver fatigue is a serious problem resulting in many thousands of road accidents each year. It is not possible to calculate the exact number of sleep related accidents but research shows that driver fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents, and up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents.

These types of crashes are about 50% more likely to result in death or serious injury as they tend to be high speed impacts because a driver who has fallen asleep cannot brake or swerve to avoid or reduce the impact.

Sleepiness reduces reaction time (a critical element of safe driving). It also reduces vigilance, alertness and concentration so that the ability to perform attention-based activities (such as driving) is impaired. The speed at which information is processed is also reduced by sleepiness. The quality of decision-making may also be affected.

It is clear that drivers are aware when they are feeling sleepy, and so make a conscious decision about whether to continue driving or to stop for a rest. It may be that those who persist in driving underestimate the risk of actually falling asleep while driving. Or it may be that some drivers choose to ignore the risks (in the way that drink drivers do).

Crashes caused by tired drivers are most likely to happen:

  • on long journeys on monotonous roads, such as motorways
  • between 2am and 6am
  • between 2pm and 4pm (especially after eating, or taking even one alcoholic drink)
  • after having less sleep than normal
  • after drinking alcohol
  • if taking medicines that cause drowsiness
  • after long working hours or on journeys home after long shifts, especially night shifts'.

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