Did You Know?
Every year on average, 87 people are killed and 7,111 people are injured as a result of driver fatigue. Accidents generally occur in midafternoon or at nighttime, due to our internal clock.
Heavy vehicle drivers and fatigue
Fatigue is cited as the leading cause of accidents in an in-depth study of nearly 200 accidents that resulted in the death of a heavy vehicle driver in the United States.
Characteristics of accidents caused by driver fatigue
- Accidents occur at night (often after midnight), but also early in the morning or in midafternoon, when our bodies are programmed to rest.
- Accidents are likely to result in serious injuries.
- Accidents often involve a single vehicle veering off the road, but rear-end and head-on collisions are also very common.
- Accidents occur in fast lanes.
- Drivers make no attempt to avoid the accident.
- Drivers are alone in the vehicle.
The effects of a long period of wakefulness: similar to the effects of alcohol
A laboratory study (Williamson and Feyer, 2000) compared the effects of a long period of wakefulness to the effects of alcohol (blood alcohol concentration):
- Between 17 and 19 hours of wakefulness: Physical and mental capacities are comparable to those of a person with a blood alcohol concentration of 50 mg of alcohol/100 ml of blood (0.05).
- After 24 hours of wakefulness: Physical and mental capacities are comparable to those of a person with a blood alcohol concentration of 100 mg of alcohol/100 ml of blood (0.10).
Main risk factors for driver fatigue
- A sleep debt
- An undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorder (apnea, insomnia, etc.)
- The time of day: drowsiness occurs more frequently between midnight and 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
- The number of consecutive hours of wakefulness: after 17 hours of wakefulness, physical and mental performance decreases
- The length of the trip
- The use of alcohol, drugs or medication, which amplify the effects of fatigue
Drivers most at risk
- Heavy vehicle drivers
- Drivers under age 30 and drivers aged 55 or older
- Workers who have irregular schedules or long work days
- Night shift workers
- Individuals who suffer from an undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorder
- Individuals with a health problem that results in fatigue
- Individuals whose lifestyle decreases the amount and quality of sleep they get
Sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders.
Sleep apnea occurs when breathing is momentarily interrupted several times during sleep. This phenomenon decreases the quality of sleep, and therefore results in a sleep debt that can cause episodes of more or less severe drowsiness during the hours of wakefulness.
Who is most at risk?
- Middle-aged men (aged 45 or older)
- Individuals who are overweight
- Individuals with a heart condition
- Professional drivers: studies shows that most professional drivers are overweight males, making them more at risk than the rest of the population
Driver fatigue and your internal clock
Your internal clock, also called a biological clock or circadian rhythm, regulates your body temperature, hormone secretion, heart rate, blood pressure and digestion in addition to your sleep cycle.
Your internal clock follows a cycle that repeats about every 24 hours. It is directly influenced by light and darkness, i.e. by day and night.
Dips in your internal clock cycle occur between midnight and 6 a.m. and, to a lesser degree, between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. During these periods, metabolism slows, alertness decreases and fatigue sets in.
Last update: June 28, 2023