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Fatigued Drivers: An Overlooked Issue

Drowsy Driving and Driver Fatigue

When talking about traffic accidents and road safety we are often quick to bring up driving under the influence, texting and driving and road rage. However, we often ignore the fact that fatigued drivers are equally dangerous and this is a problem that needs to be addressed. The Nevada Highway Patrol states that drowsy driving can be just as deadly as texting and driving, and the Center for Disease Control states that one in every twenty-five people have admitted to falling asleep behind the wheel in the last month alone [1]. In fact, drowsy driving has caused more than six thousand fatal car crashes every year [2].

Understanding Driver’s Fatigue and its Dangers

Driver’s fatigue occurs when a person feels a great deal of drowsiness while operating a motor vehicle. Most commonly, people without adequate sleep will experience driver’s fatigue; however, some people with sleep disorders like sleep apnea may also experience this. Other causes may be due to driving during usual sleep cycle, taking drugs (both legal or illicit), and alcohol consumption [3]. The following are common symptoms of driving fatigue:

  • Frequent yawning and blinking. If the duration between each blink begins to increase, one should pull over or find a rest stop and continue driving when appropriate.
  • Drifting into other lanes, especially over rumble strips present on the side of many highways.
  • Difficulty remembering the route, or the previous miles driven.
  • Difficulty driving at the speed limit.
  • Missing exits or turns.
  • Slow reactions and lack of judgement regarding dangers on the road [4].

The National Sleep Foundation reports that one out of every eight accidents requiring hospitalization of a car’s driver or passengers is caused by drowsy driving. The societal cost of driver fatigue in the United States ranges between $29.2 and $37.9 billion per year [5]

We must consider certain facts when trying to understand driver’s fatigue. To begin, sleeping decreases decision making, reaction time, and coordination. Additionally, the effects of fatigue on driving are like that of a blood alcohol concentration close to the legal limit in a well-rested person. Drivers are not aware when they fall asleep for short periods of time, known as microsleeps. Microsleeps often cause drivers to miss reaction times. The best way to prevent microsleeps is to have an alert passenger sitting next to you. The passenger can help keep the driver up and keep them engaged but can also notice if the person is dozing off and can wake them up quickly.

Are You at Risk?

Those who receive less than six hours of sleep per night are more likely to be fatigued drivers; however, there are other reasons for drowsy drivers. To begin, commercial drivers of tow-trucks, trailers, etc. are more likely to be involved in a fatigue-related collision, and the National Transportation Safety Board estimates that nearly half of all crashes involving long-haul truck drivers in which the truck driver is killed are a result of driver fatigue. Additionally, those who work night shifts, young people, and those with undiagnosed sleeping disorders have a higher risk of falling asleep while driving. [6]

A surprising study from Virginia Tech showed that Daylight Savings can increase driver’s fatigue. Many people get on the road before their internal clock has the time to adjust to this change. The body can take between a few days to a week to adjust, and drivers are more often operating a motor vehicle at a time where they were usually not. [7]

Preventing Driver’s Fatigue in Nevada

Getting the proper amount of sleep is obviously a crucial part in preventing drowsiness while driving. As mentioned before, adults and children require between six to nine hours of sleep. If one has had several days with inadequate sleep, they will need several sleep cycles to compensate for this deficit. Additionally, if you feel that you have problems sleeping at night or regulating your sleep cycle, you should speak with your doctor. [8] Understanding if you have a sleeping disorder can be a crucial step in preventing dangerous situations in relation to traffic incidents. Be cautious of situations that may enhance drowsiness, such as driving alone, driving on monotonous roadways, or driving in heavy traffic for an extended period. If you are experiencing symptoms of drowsiness while driving, pull over or find an appropriate rest stop. Some drivers may feel energized after eating a meal or drinking caffeine. Lastly, avoid driving between two in the morning and four in the morning. This time is when the circadian rhythm is low, which increases someone’s desire to sleep. [9]

In conclusion, Driver’s fatigue is an often-overlooked cause of traffic incidents. Knowing the causes, risks, dangers, and preventative measures surrounding driver’s fatigue can help Nevadans stay safe and responsible on the road. By taking proper precautions and understanding when it is appropriate and safe for us to drive, we can prevent avoidable traffic accidents in Nevada.

[1] https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drowsy-driving


[3] https://www.nsc.org/road/safety-topics/fatigued-driver

[4] https://drowsydriving.org/2016/11/national-sleep-foundation-white-paper-on-drowsy-driving/

[5] https://www.uclahealth.org/sleepcenter/drowsy-driving


[7] https://vtnews.vt.edu/articles/2019/03/unirel-daylight.html

[8] https://www.aadsm.org/teen_drowsy_driving.php

[9] https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx

Image CreditKen Lund



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