According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the less sleep the person behind the wheel gets, the higher the accident rate. For example, motorists in the study who got only four or five hours of sleep had four times the accident rate – which is similar to what’s seen among drunk drivers.
The number of deaths on South African roads is shockingly high – the Road Traffic Management Corporation's (RTMC) annual report for the year 2014 to 2015 showed that more than 4 500 people died on our roads!
"The statistics are pretty jarring. Compared to drivers who report typically getting seven or more hours of sleep nightly, those who typically sleep only four to five hours per night are 5.4 times more likely to be involved in a crash," said Benjamin McManus, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the USA.
A form of distracted driving
Arrive Alive points out that a big problem for driver fatigue campaigns in South Africa is that fatigued driving by private drivers is not punishable by law.
"Drowsy driving can be considered a form of distracted driving. Like in distracted drivers, [mental] resources are directed away from the task of driving in drowsy drivers," McManus said in a university news release.
Signs of sleepiness while driving include:
- Increased blinking
- Longer blink duration
- Slower eye movement
- Slowed reaction time
- Poor decision-making
Falling asleep while stopped in traffic or at a traffic light are dead giveaways that you're too tired to drive.
"Recognising the signs is the first step in prevention," McManus said.
Not enough shuteye
The Arrive Alive website gives the following tips:
- If you are feeling tired, stop driving,!
- Park somewhere safe.
- If necessary call someone to let them know you may be late.
- Have a couple of cups of strong coffee.
- Then have a 15 to 20 minute nap.
According to McManus, research shows that a minimum of seven hours of sleep is associated with safe driving. However, many people don't manage to get that much shuteye.
"A culture change regarding the importance of sleep might make the biggest impact of all. Currently, we tend to view sleep as one of the first things to sacrifice when we face impending deadlines or busy schedules. Recognising just how dangerous drowsy driving can be is an important step in making us all safer on the road," he concluded.
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