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Tuesday, 18 March 2008 20:00

Asleep at the wheel: Fatigue quickly dulls drivers' senses

According to a Taiwan-Thailand study, drivers have noticeably slower reactions times after only 80 minutes when driving down the highway.

Jiun-Ren Hwang and collaborators from Taiwan and Thailand knew that fatigue in drivers is a common cause of traffic accidents.

However, they could not find any scientific studies that had ever been performed to find out just how long it takes drivers to become fatigued at the wheel. The researches decided to find out for themselves.

The Hwang team studied thirty male drivers between the ages of twenty and twenty-six years. The subjects were placed in a driving simulator and asked to driver for ninety minutes.

Every two kilometers (about 1.2 miles), the researchers tested the drivers with respect to their reaction times. The researchers asked the subjects to hit an indicator button as soon as they saw a red symbol on the screen.

In this way, the researchers could test the subjects’ reaction times (amount of fatigue) at regular intervals while driving.

At about eighty minutes into the test, the reaction times of the subjects had increased by 0.3 seconds over the reaction times at the beginning of the test.

Such slower reaction times, makes it much longer to stop a motorized vehicle, especially when travling at high rates of speed. Thus, it makes it much more likely to be in an accident when a driver is fatigued and sleepy.

The research team includes Jiun-Ren Hwang along with Ping-Huang Ting and Ming-Chang Jeng (all three from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, National Central University, Jhongli, Taiwan), and Ji-Liang Doong (from the Department of Industrial Design, Tatung University, Taipei City, Thailand).

Their results “Driver fatigue and highway driving: A simulator study” appears online beginning March 2, 2008 in the journal Physiology & Behavior.

[This article is based on the New Scientist article “Bad reactions” in the March 15-21, 208 issue of the magazine.]

What can be done to counteract fatigue and sleepiness while driving? Please read on.

According to the article “Driver Fatigue—Most Underestimated Cause Of Accident On The Road” by Arnold Cafe, “Driver fatigue [in the United States] is now considered a serious road safety issue, claiming more than forty deaths and nearly a thousand injuries in road crashes in 2006 alone. Over the period of 2002 to 2006, driver fatigue was identified as being responsible for 256 deaths or twelve percent of fatal crashes, and more than 4,350 injuries."

In fact, Cafe states, "Recent international research has suggested that driver fatigue is under-represented in accident statistics, and some estimates show that it could be a contributing factor in twenty to twenty four percent of fatal crashes.”

The author, Arnold Cafe, states these basic warning signs that show fatigue in drivers:

"Blinking or yawning frequently.
Having trouble keeping your head up.
Eyes closing for a moment or going out of focus.
Having wandering or disconnected thoughts.
Realizing that you have slowed down unintentionally.
Braking too late.
Not being able to remember driving the last few kilometers or miles.
Drifting over the median line unto the other side of the road."

Cafe urges drivers to counter fatigue while driving by:

"Take regular rest stops every couple of hours.
Share the driving with other passengers.
Eat light meals or fruits throughout the journey and drink water.
If feeling tired during the trip, a nap of twenty to forty minutes is an effective way of reducing sleepiness."


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