Studies have shown that tired drivers are a bigger factor in car accidents than most people think. No amount of training or experience can overcome the effects of fatigue.
Steven Hursh, a fatigue expert at Johns Hopkins University, says, "Temporarily, a person who otherwise is very experienced, very well trained, very, very good at what they do -- fatigue can make that person stupid" Hursh has developed tools that are intended to track fatigue.
People react more slowly, struggle with attention lapses and take more unnecessary risks when they are tired. They also suffer from a narrowed field of focus, or tunnel vision, which limits their ability to competently monitor several things at once, such as traffic and road conditions.
The effects of fatigue are similar to the effects of alcohol. After being awake for as little as 24 hours, a person's workplace performance can be equivalent to that of someone with a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 percent, equal to or greater than the legal intoxication limit in all 50 states.
Also similar to alcohol, most people are unable to recognize their own impairment. Even worse, they usually can't register how fatigue is affecting their performance until it's too late and something has gone wrong.
No one can say for certain how many car accidents are caused by drivers who are just too tired to drive, in part because fatigue can't be measured like the level of alcohol in a person's system. But fatigue is frequently cited by investigators as a factor in accidents in the air, on the water and on railways and highways.
The NTSB commissioned a study in 1993 expecting to learn about the effects of drugs and alcohol on trucking accidents. Investigators studied all heavy-trucking accidents that year and made an unexpected discovery: Fatigue turned out to be the bigger problem.
The study looked at 3,311 heavy truck accidents that killed 3,783 people that year, and between 30 percent and 40 percent of those accidents were fatigue-related.
Source: News21 "Agencies, Industry Slow to Recognize Fatigue Problems"