Driver Fatigue: Dangers behind the Wheel


According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, an estimated 16.5% of all fatal motor vehicle crashes in the US are caused by fatigued drivers. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (ASAA)posted an online presentation that highlights driver fatigue. Below is a sampling of the material.

Fatigue: Causes and Warning Signs

While many individuals may consider sleepiness a normal part of life, fatigue is a very real and very dangerous condition. Being fatigued means that you are in a state of exhaustion or tiredness due to physical/mental exertion and/or a severe lack of sleep.

Fatigue is usually associated with three causes:

  1. Insufficient Amounts of Sleep
  2. Misaligned Internal Clock (Circadian Rhythm)
  3. Sleep Disorders

Adults require between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night. When you repeatedly do not get the proper amount of sleep, your body starts to accrue a sleep debt. Additionally, staying awake for over 16 hours decreases your alertness and response time.

Your internal clock, or circadian rhythm, controls your sleep/wake cycles. Your body is programmed to sleep during the night and remain active during the day. Individuals who work night shifts or rotating/unpredictable shifts are at an elevated risk when it comes to fatigue.

Sleep disorders are especially dangerous because they often go undiagnosed. Sleep Apnea, the most common disorder, interrupts your sleep and causes momentary lapses in breathing. This and other sleep disorders keep you from getting the restful sleep your body requires for safe driving. Luckily, treatments for these conditions are readily available from sleep medicine experts.

Being aware of the warning signs will help you recognize and correct your fatigue. Individuals who suffer from fatigue will:

  • Rub their eyes/blink excessively with yawning
  • Have heavy eyelids
  • Be unable to control head nodding/dropping

Fatigue Management: Tips and Myths

Fatigue awareness means knowing how tired you are at the moment and anticipating how tired you will be in the future. To help avoid fatigue, drivers should do the following:

  • Have Healthy Habits: Drink plenty of water and eat healthy foods like fruits and veggies. Instead of stopping at fast-food places, pack a cooler with good food and snack along the way.
  • Plan Your Trip: Drivers should plan their trips to include adequate rest breaks and nightly sleep. Breaks should last at least 15 to 20 minutes and include light physical activity such as walking or marching.

Contrary to popular belief, the following myths will not help you stay alert. These myths should not replace fatigue management:

  • Listening to the radio/turning up the radio volume
  • Blasting the AC or opening windows
  • Chewing Gum

It’s important to remember the signs of fatigue while you are driving. For your safety and the safety of others, make sure you plan ahead and get the sleep your body needs.