Driver fatigue is an experience many drivers are familiar with. But it becomes even more dangerous when it involves large commercial trucks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that about 2.5% of fatal, and 2% of nonfatal motor accidents are related to driver fatigue.
Research has shown that sleep deprivation can cause the same effects as drunk driving. Studies indicate that people who have been awake for 24 hours have the same level of cognitive deficit as those with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10%, which is above the legal limit in most states.
Causes of Driver Fatigue
Sleeping for less than 6 hours every night is a major contributor to driver fatigue. Snoring can also be a factor as a result of the lack of adequate oxygen to the brain. Night-driving truckers are especially at risk. This is because working at night runs counter to the body’s natural circadian rhythm. It serves as the body’s timer that signals the various glands when to release hormones that controls alertness, body temperature and other aspects of the body’s daily cycle.
Drowsiness makes drivers less attentive, impairs judgment and slows reaction time. A driver’s level of alertness drops quickly as the drowsiness increases. Intermittent episodes called micro sleep which causes momentary loss of awareness at the wheel has resulted in countless fatal accidents.
New gadgets and phone apps are also being developed that could help keep drivers safe. Vigo is a driver fatigue alarm that is inserted in the ear and beeps or vibrates when it senses the driver nodding off. There is also a Bluetooth headset that warns wearers if they are sleepy based on their pattern of blinking and body movement.
The Anti Sleep Pilot is a device for the dashboard and is also available as a mobile app for the iPhone or iPad. It gauges the user’s level of fatigue based on factors such as age, weight and average amount of sleep a night. If it senses you are sleepy, it tries to keep you alert by intermittently asking you to touch the device. Other apps try could make it harder for you to snooze at the wheel by asking you trivia questions or making alarm clock noises at regular time intervals.
In the fleet management space, Hamilton Ontario startup Zentrela is developing a wearable device fitted into a baseball cap that tracks driver’s brainwaves using EEG technology. Both the driver and the fleet manager can be made aware if their readings are outside a prescribed range. Once utilized, fleet managers have an opportunity to limit risk and reduce insurance costs
Many motor companies have also turned to technology to help alleviate and minimize the effects of fatigued driving. Car manufacturers have included collision avoidance systems in which cameras or lasers detect objects in the driver’s path, alerting a driver of an impending crash. Research suggests that these systems can reduce rear-end accidents by about 10%. Lane avoidance also notifies drivers when they have veered away from their lane and studies have found that these systems can reduce the rate of drivers going off the road by about 40%.
Ford has developed anti-collision technology that enhances driver awareness and prevents frontal collisions. The Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection uses radar and camera technology to scan ahead and detect any obstacle, whether it be a pedestrian or another vehicle. If it detects an oncoming object, a visual and auditory collision warning will alert the driver and the brake discs will automatically close the gap with the brake pad to increase responsiveness.
General Motors has also announced a driver assistance technology called Super Cruise that was initially planned for late last year but roll out has been delayed and will only be on sale this fall. The system uses a small camera that focuses on the driver and works with infrared lights to track head position to determine where the driver is looking. If the system—which uses facial recognition software—detects the driver is not paying attention, it will prompt the driver to return attention to the road.
There are also other steps that drivers can take to reduce drowsiness, including drinking coffee and taking short 15-minute naps. Driver fatigue is a problem that can be overcome if drivers are proactive in taking necessary precautions. With the help of new technologies, we can expect the roads to be safer and many lives will be saved.
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