Driving when tired is equivalent to driving when drunk

Researchers from from UCLA and Tel Aviv University find “severe fatigue exerts a similar influence on the brain to drinking too much”

Drivers sleeping in cars to save on fuel

Scientists from UCLA and Tel Aviv University studied patients experiencing fatigue and found their brains became slower and less efficient at perceiving and assessing visual images. The effect of this neurological slowdown was directly compared to drink driving.

By inserting electrodes into patients’ brains and measuring the responses of 1,500 brain cells in areas that process visual perception and memory, researchers found subjects became less able to translate “visual input into conscious thought.” 

• UK drink driving laws explained

Dr. Itzhak Fried, the scientist leading the study, said more should to regulate tired drivers: “Severe fatigue exerts a similar influence on the brain to drinking too much” Fried explained; “Yet no legal or medical standards exist for identifying overtired drivers on the road the same way we target drunk drivers.” 

Fried went on to explain that the neurons in his subjects’ brains “responded slowly and fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual”. In his view when put behind the wheel of a car, perception and visual processes would slow down when a driver was tired: “The very act of seeing the pedestrian slows down in the driver’s overtired brain”, Fried said. “It takes longer for his brain to register what he’s perceiving.” 

The patients were asked to categorise a variety of images as quickly as possible, and the researchers found that as “the patients slowed down, their brain cells did, too.”

This latest study follows previous research that reached similar conclusions. According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, losing out on just a few hours of sleep the night before puts drivers at nearly twice the risk of crashing compared to those who’ve slept the recommended seven or more hours.

The study found that a lack of sleep has similar effects to being drunk, with slower reaction times and a shorter attention span. The Sleep Council estimates that a third of Britons get just five to six hours of sleep a night, putting them at 1.9 times the normal risk of crashing.

• UK tech firm unlocks secret to charging EVs in seconds

Reviewing the causes of 4,751 vehicle accidents in the US, the research found that driver drowsiness has caused seven per cent of all crashes and 21 per cent of all fatal accidents. In the UK, driver fatigue has been linked as a contributory factor in one in ten road fatalities. 

A recent report by the AA found that one in seven drivers in the UK admit they regularly suffer memory blanks while driving, with 15 per cent unable to recall the last few moments of a journey.

 

Level of sleep

 

 

Risk of crashing

 

 

6-7 hours

 

 

1.3 times normal risk

 

 

5-6 hours

 

 

1.9 times normal risk

 

 

4-5 hours

 

 

4.3 times normal risk

 

 

Less than 4 hours

 

 

11.5 times normal risk

 

Dr David Yang, executive director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said: “You cannot miss sleep and still expect to be able to safely function behind the wheel. Our research shows that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.”

Edmund King, president of the AA, said: "Even in the UK we estimate that up to 10 per cent of motorway fatalities may be due to drivers falling asleep. The usual characteristics are a lack of braking before impact and single vehicle collisions." 

Have you driven while tired? Did you notice a difference? Tell us in the comments below...

Recommended

Coroner calls for smart motorway review following M1 deaths
smart motorway
News

Coroner calls for smart motorway review following M1 deaths

The deaths of two men in a smart motorway collision could have been avoided if there had been a hard shoulder, coroner rules
19 Jan 2021
Councils to get new powers to issue fines for traffic offences
Box junction
Consumer news

Councils to get new powers to issue fines for traffic offences

Local authorities will be able to fine drivers who commit moving traffic contraventions under legislation being drawn up
18 Jan 2021
UK drivers to escape EU speed camera fines due to Brexit
Citroen DS Eiffel Tower
Consumer news

UK drivers to escape EU speed camera fines due to Brexit

UK’s departure from the European Union puts an end to cross-border directive, leaving EU countries unable to enforce speeding penalties for drivers ca…
13 Jan 2021
Driverless car users may not be liable in accidents
Jaguar Land Rover autonomous testing - static
Consumer news

Driverless car users may not be liable in accidents

Law Commission proposes motorists in driverless cars should be renamed “users in charge” as part of “no-blame culture”
18 Dec 2020

Most Popular

BMW 5 Series vs Audi A6 vs Volvo S90
BMW 5 Series vs Audi A6 vs Volvo S90 - main
Car group tests

BMW 5 Series vs Audi A6 vs Volvo S90

Can plug-in hybrid power create a clear winner out of the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 or Volvo S90
23 Jan 2021
New Lotus ‘Type 131’ due in 2021 as Elise, Exige and Evora bow out
Lotus range
Lotus

New Lotus ‘Type 131’ due in 2021 as Elise, Exige and Evora bow out

A new look Lotus line-up is teased with heavy influence from Evija hypercar expected
24 Jan 2021
Best small 4x4s to buy 2021
Dacia Duster ford
Best cars & vans

Best small 4x4s to buy 2021

Need 4x4 capability without big SUV fuel bills? Take a look our top 10 small 4x4s instead
6 Jan 2021