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Drowsy driving: More dangerous than you think

March 5, 2010
By DAVE WERNER

Do you ever drive when fatigued? If you honestly answered this question, your response is likely to be yes. Research by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation shows that some 26 percent of all fatal and injury crashes are related to fatigued driving. It can occur as a result of the monotony or repetitiveness of either the driving task or the driving environment, or can occur after driving for extended periods without a rest or break.

Drowsy driving is a function of the human body's natural circadian rhythm or "sleep-wake" cycle, meaning that most people feel sleepy twice a day - at night and in the afternoon. Drivers that operate a vehicle at these times are more likely to feel drowsy.

So how common is fatigued driving and is it really a major problem? A 2002 survey in the U.S. found that 51 percent of drivers admitted to driving while drowsy; 17 percent admitted to dozing off while driving. An Ontario survey found nearly 60 percent of Ontario drivers, corresponding to some five million people, admitted that they have driven fatigued at least sometimes, and well over a million Ontario drivers (14.5 percent) also admit that they have fallen asleep or nodded off while driving at least once in the past year. With similar statistics for both the U.S. and Ontario, it is obvious that fatigued driving is definitely a serious problem.

So, who is most likely to drive while fatigued? The answers are:

How do drivers combat fatigue? Research from the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Ontario found drivers rely upon a variety of tactics to combat fatigue, such as opening windows, talking to passengers, stopping to eat or exercise without sleeping, and changing radio stations or CDs. Of concern, only 14.8 percent reported that they stopped to nap or sleep, which is the most effective way to overcome drowsy driving.

Associated driving behaviors that may suggest fatigue include inconsistent speed, frequent lane changes or weaving, not respecting road signs and traffic control devices, sudden braking and speeding. Fatigue-related crashes are more likely to occur at night or in mid-afternoon, involve a single vehicle running off the roadway, occur on higher-speed roadways, involve only the driver (often young and male) as an occupant, and usually result in serious injuries.

 
 

 

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