Do your fleet drivers tell you they get plenty of rest, and drowsy driving is not an issue for them? That’s what they may genuinely believe, but new research from the AAA Foundation finds that many drivers underestimate their drowsiness or fail to recognize when they are in danger of falling asleep at the wheel.
Specifically, the study — which was conducted on consumer drivers —found that 75% of motorists who reported low perceived levels of drowsiness, were actually moderately or very drowsy.
Study participants rated their drowsiness as low on 25% of occasions when the objective measure indicated high drowsiness — that means their eyes closed for more than one-quarter of the time over a one-minute interval.
There is a strong likelihood that fleet drivers — just like the average motorist — also experience a lack of awareness about their own level of drowsiness. In fact, experts say professional drivers are more susceptible to fatigue. For starters, fleet drivers spend far more time behind the wheel than the average driver, putting them at a greater risk for drowsiness.
What’s more, previous studies do link drowsiness to commercial crashes. For example, one study of commercial vehicle crashes by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that 13% of commercial motor vehicle drivers were fatigued at the time of the collision.
The Perils of Fatigue, Nighttime Driving
Each year, drowsy driving accounts for about 100,000 crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities, according to the National Safety Council.
The new research from the AAA Foundation is just one of many efforts to learn more about drowsy driving and help make the nation’s roads safer for all road users. The purpose of the most recent study was to examine drowsy drivers’ awareness of their own drowsiness and how it related to their decisions regarding whether or when to stop driving.
Here’s how the study was conducted. AAA Foundation worked with researchers at the National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa. They recruited people to participate in the experiment at 11 p.m. or 2:30 a.m. after a day without napping or consuming caffeine.
In the experiment, participants drove 150 miles on a simulated Interstate highway with a speed limit of 65 mph. Participants’ perceived and objective levels of drowsiness were measured at four specific locations along the route. The objective measure of drowsiness was the percent of time that their eyelids were closed over a one-minute period, assessed using video of their eyes.
This study is particularly important as it regards nighttime driving — all experiments took place at night or in the middle of the night.
Data indicates that almost half of all drowsy driving episodes happen between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., according to a Bankrate report. So being aware of one’s true level of drowsiness while behind the wheel at night could help save lives. That is, if the driver is willing to pull over and stay off the road until alert and energized and again.
Importance of Breaks, Rest
During the AAA Foundation study, drivers were given the opportunity to take breaks every 20 minutes or so. However, due to a lack of accurate assessment of their own drowsiness, nearly 50% of all study participants decided to forgo breaks altogether.
Noteworthy, even when participants rated themselves as extremely drowsy, and had the opportunity to take a break, more than 75% chose to continue driving without taking a break.
Fleet operators can learn a great deal from this AAA Foundation research. Overall, the study provides insight into how drowsiness impacts decision- making during long nighttime drives. The results demonstrate a need to help drivers to improve their self-assessment of their own levels of drowsiness, as well as the need to educate drivers about the importance of heeding the early warning signs of drowsiness and stopping to rest before becoming extremely drowsy.
Given the long hours and unforgiving deadlines that many commercial drivers face, they are probably less likely than the average motorist to take the breaks they need in order to stay fresh and focused behind the wheel.
In addition, one study of commercial drivers found that three out of every four drivers reported having experienced at least one type of driving error as a result of fatigue, notes the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Taking breaks — getting some rest and re-energizing — can not only help curb drowsy driving but also cut down on errors and crashes.