Driving fatigue causes one in five crashes

June 19, 2013

A recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) shows that 20% of car crashes result from drivers’ fatigue. The study also found that young drivers were more likely to crash if they drove while fatigued.

Sleep driving

Driving fatigue is dangerous. Image by Kristian Bjornard.

The study is significant, as earlier estimates held that fatigue was responsible for just 2–3 percent of crashes. Charlie Klauer, group leader for teen risk and injury prevention at VTTI’s Center for Vulnerable Road User Safety said, “The study allowed us, for the first time, to observe driver behavior just prior to a crash.”

“In 20 percent of all crashes and 16 percent of all near crashes, the driver was showing fatigue. We saw eye-lid closure, head bobbing, severe loss of facial musculature, micro-sleep – which is when your eyes drift shut and then pop up. This was not just yawning. The drivers were asleep.”

The study also found that 18–20-year-olds were responsible for more crashes due to fatigue than other age groups. Teenagers sleep later, but school begins early in the day. This leads to daytime sleepiness. Although older drivers may have similar late nights and leave early for work, their experience with moderate fatigue may help them to avoid crashes.

Klauer also pointed out, “A finding that surprised people is the prevalence of fatigue during the day. We found significantly more crashes/near crashes due to fatigue during the day than at night.” This could be because of circadian rhythms.

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According to the Australian Academy of Science, “Researchers have long noted that fatigue-related accidents tend to occur in two distinct periods of the day – between midnight and 6 am, and between about 2 pm and 4 pm. These periods coincide with typical low points in our daily pattern of alertness, or circadian rhythm.”

Although the VTTI study covered 100 drivers, driving fatigue is more widespread: The National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Sleep in America poll found that “among those who drove, about half (52%) indicated that they have driven drowsy.” More than one-third (37%) had done so in the past month.

Tom Dingus, director of the VTTI, said about the study, “Applying the findings to the population at-large, these results suggest that drivers are at a four times greater risk of a crash or near crash if they choose to drive while fatigued.”

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Category: Road safety, Trends

About the Author ()

A graduate in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, India, Nupur also has an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. Nupur is currently trying to be as savvy a cook as she is with a book. She likes watching plays and sunsets. Nupur first lived in Kolkata and then for a decade in Delhi, still her favorite city.

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