Driver fatigue is a very serious danger that contributes to thousands of accidents every year. Fatigue can lead to car accidents because it impairs reaction time causing the driver to be less vigilant and not as capable of processing and integrating information. If you are operating a vehicle while drowsy (sleepy), especially if you are sitting still, bored, or driving for long distances, you increase the risk of falling asleep at the wheel.
Common Factors Involved in Driver Fatigue Motor Vehicle Accidents
There are some common factors and characteristics to look for to determine whether or not driver fatigue may have been involved in causing the accident to take place.
- Accident takes place late at night or early morning
- Serious crash
- Single vehicle drives off the road
- High-speed road
- Driver does not attempt to avoid crash
- Driver is alone
- Driver is with family members or close friends
Groups who tend to be at a higher risk of fatigue related crashes are young people aged 16-29, shift workers who work at night or work long and irregular hours, people who use sedating medications, and even people who may have untreated or unrecognized sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy.
Explanations for the Increase in Sleepy Drivers
Many factors contribute to drowsy driving including, but not limited to, acute sleep loss, job-related sleep restriction, personal demands, lifestyle choices, and sleep fragmentation which disrupts the sleep cycle and leaves the sufferer feeling unrefreshed. Typically, seven to nine hours of sleep are recommended for optimal performance, while less than four hours of sleep can lead to impaired vigilance. Believe it or not, you can actually create a sleep debt by losing one to two hours of sleep a night.
Education is the key to improving the safety of drivers, passengers, and others sharing the road. Educating people about the steps they can take to reduce the risk of driver fatigue can help reduce the incidence of fatigue related accidents. The obvious suggestion would be ensuring that you receive enough sleep, however, not drinking alcohol when sleepy and avoiding driving as much as possible between the hours of midnight and 6AM can also make a difference. It is also important that drivers recognize when they are feeling fatigued.
As a driver, if you start to feel sleepy you should consider stopping to take a nap, or if you are riding with a passenger alternate turns driving. While some would advise caffeine, it is important to understand that stimulants can mask how sleepy a person actually is. Of course, getting adequate sleep and preventing drowsiness is the best measure one can take to prevent fatigued driving. If people can take steps to avoid driving while drowsy, the number of driver fatigued accidents can be reduced.