According to new survey data published by SmartWitness, one in six drivers on the road has fallen asleep behind the wheel. Additionally, 42 percent of the motorists surveyed admitted that they had driven in a drowsy state where they felt at risk of falling asleep.
Half of the drivers surveyed, 47 percent, said they considered that their own fatigue had, at some point in their driving careers, endangered themselves or other road users.
Driving fatigue afflicts men more severely than women.
Only 10 percent of female drivers have fallen asleep while driving; in contrast, nearly a quarter (24 percent) of male drivers have fallen asleep. Of drivers who admit to getting behind the wheel while drowsy, the overwhelming majority (89 percent) say they’ve done so in order to meet work or family obligations.
While the Government has warned of the dangers of drowsy driving, only 48 percent of drivers surveyed said they had followed Government recommendations and taken a driving break when they feel tired.
Drivers combatting tiredness employ a variety of different strategies to wake themselves up. Popular examples include rolling down car windows (48 percent of surveyed drivers), having a caffeinated beverage (37 percent), chewing gum (24 percent), turning the radio to a higher volume (16 percent), and turning down the temperature in the car (12 percent).
SmartWitness has employed cutting-edge technology to detect the signs of fatigued driving (principally the driver’s eyes drifting off the road) and alert affected drivers. Their DDC100 unit is a dashboard-mounted device roughly eight centimeters by seven centimeters. It uses cameras and facial recognition software to detect periods lasting longer than three seconds where the driver is not looking at the road. Once such a period has been detected, the unit produces an audible alert. The DDC100 is suitable for use in cars, vans, and LGV’s vs HGVs. It can be connected to a fleet management system to remotely report fatigue problems to a fleet manager. The same facial recognition technology can also detect other potentially-dangerous distractions, such as mobile phone use.
SmartWitness, the UK’s leading company for vehicle CCTV equipment, developed its fatigue data by surveying 1,000 motorists. The survey found that 17 percent of drivers had, at some point, fallen asleep while driving.
47 percent of the drivers responding reported getting less than the recommended amount of sleep (seven to eight hours) on a nightly basis.
85 percent of respondents reported experiencing at least one bad night of sleep per week. At least half of the drivers surveyed (52 percent) reported that they had to drive a vehicle after getting a poor night’s sleep.
Drivers who have to drive for business reasons were particularly at risk for fatigue problems due to their lengthening working hours and demanding schedules.
Twenty Percent Driver Deaths Due to Sleep-related Reasons
The survey estimated that fatigue contributes in a significant way to up to 20 percent of driver deaths on an annual basis.
Even more significantly, collisions which involved fatigued drivers are three times more likely to cause death or serious injury due to high speeds involved and the lack of evasive action taken by fatigued drivers.
Paul Singh, the chief executive of SmartWitness, did not hesitate to call driver fatigue one of the most lethal killers on UK roads. Singh says his company can and should do more to raise awareness regarding this road safety threat.
“More demanding delivery schedules are pressuring professional drivers into working even when they are drowsy and at risk,” Singh said. “The threat that fatigue poses to the other people on the road is no different than that posed by mobile phone use or drink driving.
“Employers have a responsibility to recognise this threat and take steps to alleviate it. New technology that helps identify drivers suffering from fatigue can make our roads safer.”
SmartWitness offers a SmartGuard system for fleet operators in addition to its DDC100 unit. SmartGuard puts a professional call centre to work monitoring driver behaviour and stepping in before fatigue can become a threat.
In a SmartGuard-monitored fleet, multiple driver telematics are tracked for signs of distress, including tailgating and abrupt braking. The driver distraction unit is a new and potent tool for further improving fleet safety.
The DDC100 will provide a valuable service for fleet managers by allowing them to pinpoint at-risk drivers and take training steps to correct the problem and eliminate risk.