Driving is a tacit exercise that requires the right state of mind of the person sitting behind the wheel. Any driver that drives when exhausted or not in the right state of mind is a dangerous driver. Sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment and increases aggressiveness.
If that sounds familiar, then you may have heard the same warnings about driving under the influence of alcohol or any other drugs. Just like driving while drunk or drugged, drowsy driving causes you to make mistakes while driving, mistakes that can injure or kill the driver, passengers or third parties.
According to Automobiles’ experts, drowsiness or fatigue is the principal cause of the majority vehicle crashes every year, the number of fatalities rising up to 1,500 people and injuring close to 100,000 is the USA alone.
In Africa, the situation could even be worse but because we do not have accurate figures, we should not relax and wish it away. Many more fatigue-related crashes go unreported.
But don’t blame it on the long-haul truckers: Less than 1 percent of all sleep-related crashes involve truck drivers and bus drivers, who are prohibited, by law, from driving more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period.
In 2003, New York (USA) authorities passed Maggie’s Law, named after a 20-year-old college student killed by a drowsy driver. The law states that a sleep deprived driver qualifies as a reckless driver who can be convicted of vehicular homicide and serve jail sentence.
Here in Rwanda, we only look at drunken driving as the menace and ignore a worse form of “menace”. Moreover, a driver that has consumes alcohol may not be neccessarily drunk or as dangerous as a “sleepy driver”.
How does one detect drowsy driving? Studies show that 20 percent of crashes and 12 percent of near-crashes are caused by drowsy drivers.
How did the researchers determine a driver was drowsy? They got lots of 100 vehicles outfitted with five cameras that linked to computers to record driver action and reaction.
They monitored the drivers for more than one year and nearly 2 million miles of driving. Researchers determined that the drivers were drowsy if their eyes closed for longer than a blink, or if their heads bobbed forward and then bolted back upright.
Also making the cut were drivers who didn’t move at all, staring fixedly ahead instead of reacting to oncoming traffic or checking the rearview or side view mirrors. Surprisingly, the study showed that the majority of crashes and near-crashes occur during daytime hours, when roads are more crowded, rather than at night.
But sleep-related accidents at night tend to be more serious because they are more likely to occur on high-speed highways and rural roads, when the driver is alone.
Among the groups studied, all the age groups had the same percentage of drowsy-driving crashes and near-crashes, except for one.
“The 18-20 age groups was involved in five times more fatigue-related accidents and near-accidents than any other group,” due to inexperience behind the wheel and irregular sleep habits. It’s not just age, it’s work schedule.
An AA (Automobiles Association) Foundation study, based on interviews with drivers after crashes, indicated that drowsy drivers were nearly twice as likely to work at more than one job and their primary job was much more likely to involve non-standard hours. Working the night shift increased the odds of a sleep-related accident by nearly six times.