The dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol are generally acknowledged; however, many motorists fail to acknowledge that driving while sleep-deprived, extremely tired or just generally suffering from fatigue, could be just as dangerous.
Duane Ellis, General Manager of the Jamaica Automobile Association (JAA), points to a study conducted by the Center for Sleep Research at the University of South Australia in 1997– showing that – 24 hours without sleep is equivalent to driving with a Blood Alcohol Level (BAC) of 0.10%, which is higher than the legal limit for Jamaica of 0.8%.
He added that a two-year study conducted in France found that drivers who were either drunk or sleepy were “at least twice as likely to be responsible for a vehicular accident compared to their well-rested or sober counterparts.”
He further stated, “the problem of fatigue-related accidents is greatest among occupational drivers,” noting that, “With the increase in vehicles moving cargo across Jamaica, more professional drivers are on the roads for longer hours, often with little rest.”
As most sleep-related crashes occur during early morning hours, Mr. Ellis pointed out that truck and trailer drivers, as well as party goers, should pay special attention to the warning signs of driver fatigue.
“Motorists should look out for increased yawning, drowsiness and tired eyes,” he said. Once the driver begins to experience or display signs of poor concentration, slowed reaction, over steering, drifting out of lane and tailgating, this person is suffering from driver fatigue.
The best way to prevent fatigue is to get a good night’s sleep, Mr. Ellis said. Where this is not possible, some supplementary measures are called for.
“Those who plan to travel for long hours or during the hours between 10pm and dawn, should have a backup driver, or a companion to help keep them alert, as this is the time when one’s body is responding to the natural sleep cycle and you are more at risk of falling asleep,” he said, adding that “whenever possible, drivers should take regular breaks.”
“Drivers who regularly travel for extended distances cross-country can get drowsy, and should identify safe rest stops, where they can take a short nap which should be limited to a maximum of 20 minutes. Sleeping for longer periods will make one groggy and even less alert, so the driver could simply find a bed and continue driving after a full night’s rest,” Ellis suggests.
Drivers should also be aware of the risks of falling into a micro sleep. This type of sleep occurs when the driver will lose consciousness for periods of a fraction of a second up to 30 seconds while driving. Drivers are usually unaware of the seconds which have elapsed during this period. Collisions which occur while drivers are in a state of micro sleep are usually fatal.
Mr. Ellis maintains that “the first requirement for drivers is that they should be aware of the risks of drowsiness and fatigue. And, once they are aware, they should put measures in place to decrease the risk of crashes.”