A new European study published this month reports that prolonged nighttime driving can be just as hazardous as driving drunk.
Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that driving for just three hours at night was similar to being drunk. Even two hours behind the wheel after dark was like having a strong buzz.
Conducting the test on men aged 21 to 25, the researchers supervised their driving skills at various shifts between 9 pm and 5 am. After two hours of nighttime driving, the subjects made errors similar to those made with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05. The more they drove, the more their driving resembled that of someone who was intoxicated. Three hours behind the wheel was comparable to a BAC of 0.08 percent. Driving 4.5 hours at night was akin to reaching a BAC of 0.10 percent – for a man weighing about 80 kilos (176 pounds), that is about the same as drinking four alcoholic beverages in an hour. Blasting the stereo at high decibels and opening the window for a blast of air had little effect, researchers said.
The researchers estimate that as much as 20 percent of vehicle accidents in industrialized countries can be attributed to sleepiness.
In an effort to help the problem, a new system is being developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology in Germany called Eyetracker. The Eyetracker, when mounted on your dashboard, uses cameras to track the spatial positioning of your pupils and line of vision, and can detect when you’re getting drowsy, to which the system responds with a warning to snap you awake. The system isn’t retailing just yet but was presented at an industry trade show in November 2010.
The study was published in the January issue of the Journal of Sleep Research. Access it here: