All you need to know about Deadly Driver-Fatigue

16.6 percent of extremely fatal road crashes (in 1998) were caused by driver fatigue in Australia. Especially in the Northern Territory – citing the highest rate per 100 million vehicle kilometers travelled. Within the individual States and Territories New South Wales comes out on top with the highest 22% rate of fatal crashes involving driver fatigue.

Who is at risk?

According to a study conducted by Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB):

  • Males under 29 years of age – were responsible for the highest rate of early morning deadly driver fatigue between the hours of midnight and 6am.
  • Drivers over the age of 50 – found to be the highest rates of involvement in driver/rider related afternoon crashes.
  • Truck Drivers – 29.9 percent of fatal truck crashes (cited from the 1998 statistical study) in Australia involved driver fatigue.
  • Adults between 18-29
  • Adults with children in the household are more likely to drive drowsy and sleep deprived than those without children
  • People who sleep six to seven hours a night versus the recommended 8 or more – are twice as likely to be involved in a driver fatigue related accident. People sleeping less than 5 hours increase their risk four to five times that.
  • Anyone – All humans are at risk to sleep deprivation and the negative results.

Driver Fatigue defined – What is it?

This highly researched topic has been debated upon countless times – and still, a universally accepted definition has not been reached in consensus. The term itself therefore refers currently to a variety of symptoms and causes such as:

  • Insufficient sleep
  • Subjective feelings of drowsiness
  • Prolonged Activity
  • Impaired Performance
  • Disruption of Circadian Rhythms
  • Time of day
  • Physical Fitness
  • Medical Conditions
  • Age

Not enough zzz’s

When people do not achieve enough important sleep, they acquire a ‘sleep-debt’. A name for the difference between the actual amount of sleep obtained versus the minimum required amount of sleep for sufficient alertness and performance. As little as 2 hours loss of regular sleep on any given night can translate into:

  • Degraded cognitive function
  • Slower reaction time
  • Compromised memory
  • Altered mood
  • Lack of alertness

Accumulation of sleep debt long-term results in significant reduction of alertness and performing – especially with regards to attention based tasks such as driving.

Around the clock issues:

Humans are hard wired with a neurobiological based sleep-wake cycle known as a circadian rhythm or body clock. According to research there are two points during the 24 hour circadian cycle where level of sleepiness is at it’s highest. The first point is during the night and early morning, and the second is found in the afternoon. During both of these peak periods of sleepiness, performance and function can be compromised. Many studies are now showing that time of day is the most consistent factor found in influencing driver fatigue.

True Cost:

Settlements in the multi-million dollar range have been awarded to families of crash victims in lawsuits filed against individuals as well as businesses employing individuals involved in driver fatigue related incidents. Several incidents have also resulted in jail sentences for the driver. The necessary function of sleep is not to be taken lightly. A study done by researchers in Australia found that being awake for 18 hours produced the same impairment as a blood alcohol concentration of .05 and after 24 hours that rate went up to .10 keeping in mind the legal rate to be considered drunk behind the wheel is .08. Fast paced schedules and busy lives aside, it’s food for thought when debating whether to press snooze in the morning, or push through that extra hour of travel time on the road in a hurry.