Driving Tired Is Bad News

Driving tired is bad news. The risk of driving tired is as high as driving under the influence of alcohol, or so we’re told. Of course, it is all a matter of degree, how tired and how much alcohol, but nevertheless it’s an increased risk of not being able to anticipate that clown doing something in front of you – never your fault remember, your insurance company insist on that.

Now freeways/motorways are where these days we frequently spend time on long journeys. Not very exciting driving and the speeds are high – let’s say 10 M.P.H. above the speed limit if we are conservative.  But hours heading home on that long unending ribbon of asphalt can cause the eyelids to become inordinately heavy.

The cure is that we take is a break and maybe a coffee, but is this optimal? Well, Taillard et al have asked this question and reported out in PLoS ONE last week (1). The team based in Bordeaux and Sweden would have had plenty of opportunities of putting their findings to the test if they have been commuting to each other’s institutions.

They focused their attention on 40 males in the age range 20 – 50-years old. Women may come later, we’ll see. The task was to head out at 1 A.M. and drive 250 miles to finish at a little after 5 A.M. Note no participants were lost during the experiments.

The rigorous experimental driving program had three conditions. The first was a 15-minute break with a coffee flavored drink (minimal caffeine) and the second was a proper cup of coffee with a carefully measured caffeine dose. The third and most innovative condition had a portable “imitation sunlight” unit mounted on the dashboard that emitted a blue light at ~470 nm. This is the type of light is sold to cheer us up during those dark winter days or just during a long period of dark cloudy weather to keep us from S.A.D.

The blue light was almost as effective as the coffee in preventing the tired drivers from wandering over the lane markings of the road in an unpredictable fashion.

Nobody would want a portable light unit on the dash which could fly around when we have to take evasive action when some pesky pedestrian, other driver, or in extremis, a police car interrupts our progress.

The answer is clearly that car manufacturers should fit our instrument panels with a blue light illumination. Don’t let us neglect coffee though. Once the caffeine starts to wear off, the steady increase in bladder pressure is sure to keep us awake and encourage us to take another break and help us when we’re driving tired.

  1. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0046750

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