Driver Sleepiness

Falling asleep at the wheel and sleep-related vehicle accidents (SRVAs) have become increasing causes of serious road crashes amongst our roads.  Surveys from the UK police forces show that 15-20% of all road accidents are down to SRVAs, higher than the percentage for drink related accidents.  Mortality rates associated with the ‘silent killer’ are particularly high: predominantly they happen at high speeds and on major roadways when a driver does not try to avoid a crash due to their decreased sense of position.  As well as causing a dramatic drop in reaction times, sleep reduces vigilance and causes deficits in information processing: vital elements one must have in driving.
Sleepiness does not occur spontaneously, there is a preceding feeling of fatigue from which someone may attempt to combat in rolling down their window to feel the cold air, stretching or turning up the radio to increase awareness.  These methods are extremely limited in prevailing as they are only preventing the eventual moment when one is asleep. Sleepiness has the potential to cause increased confidence in one’s driving ability, an effect similar to many illegal drugs. A surprising number of drivers are unable to recollect falling asleep and this is why it is even more important to effectively counter measure this danger; SRVAs are more likely to end with serious injuries than the ‘average’ road accident.
Those with an early commute, men aged 30 years or younger and drivers from skilled manual occupations are all at a higher risk due to their increased exposure to driving or the time in which they drive, the body’s natural biological clock is certainly influential. Most SRVAs happen between 02:00 and 07:00 and between 14.00 and 16.00.
Naps of less than 15 minutes and doses of caffeine are now recommended in the Highway Code to avoid falling asleep at the wheel. Drivers are advised to get off the road, park up and nap. Alcohol is also to be avoided as it further worsens the situation by increasing drowsiness. Particularly, the effect of caffeine on those who before driving were sleep deprived is profound, as it gets absorbed straight to the brain and speeds up reaction times, these types of drivers can not perceive an increase in sleepiness as well as other drivers, hence the need to combat this is as ever important.
The report commissioned by the Department of Transport on driver sleepiness concludes that driver education, linked to greater public awareness of potential dangers of sleepiness, together with greater employer responsibility with regard to their employees’ fitness to drive, present the best approaches for reducing sleep related crashes.

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