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Driver fatigue the silent killer on highways - Friday, December 24, 2004

GUEST COLUMN
Stoney Creek News, Ancaster News, Hamilton News, Mountain News
Friday, December 24, 2004

No this is not a review of Stanley Kubrick's movie. A vehicle with a lone driver in the middle of the night runs off the road. The driver does not survive. A family travelling in their van is wiped out mysteriously when it leaves the road. There are no brake marks, nor skid marks to indicate the vehicle ever tried to slow down. Upon examination of these vehicles, it is found that there were no mechanical problems with them. These crashes are often referred to as 'mystery collisions' because the victims often do not live to tell what happened and survivors may not admit to driver error.

More and more, research points to driver fatigue. This phenomenon is the silent killer on our highways. Excessive fatigue behind the wheel can be a killer as sleepy drivers lose control. Unfortunately, most of us disregard fatigue as something that happens to others, but not to us.

Our lifestyles make us sleep less than our forefathers. On the average, we sleep about half and hour less than our parents, and about an hour less than our grandparents. Perhaps the curse of modern times - the electric light bulb - contributes to loss of sleep.

Many people work extended shifts, such as a 12-hour day. With this, they hope to get a longer weekend. Some work a split shift, which once again steals sleeping time. On the beginning of the long weekend, after a long day's work, the odyssey to the cottage begins and continues late into the evening. Drivers are feeling tired. During the week, in the evening, a trucker is trying to get in an extra 20 kilometers of travel. He is under pressure, because he is paid by the mileage, not by the hour.

Midnight to dawn is the most dangerous time on the roads. From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., collisions double when compared to rest of the day as workers are changing shifts. It is interesting to note that half the collisions in daylight hours are resulting from falling asleep.

Our body clocks make us naturally sleepy in the afternoon. Perhaps the Mexicans have a good thing with the afternoon siesta. Research on workers has indicated that at night the human brain slows down, and cannot pay attention. Thus, it cannot react quickly enough to dangerous situations. AmazingIy, none of the research subjects admitted to being tired.

Sleep apnea sets in, and there is no way the body can be forced to stay awake. The body wants to sleep and it will go to sleep. None of the 'supposed' tricks, such as drinking coffee, opening the window to get cold air, or having the radio on loud, will work. All of these maneuvers are self-delusionary. It delays the inevitable by a few minutes. As the brain gets tired it will disregard danger signs as the drivers reach serious levels of brain impairment. Research found that at least one third of sleepy drivers die on the roads.

At times drivers were noticed driving as if intoxicated. They are not, but they are fatigued. There is no test for a sleepy drivers as there is for an intoxicated one.

The signs of impairment due to lack of sleep are itchy eyes, irritability and aggressiveness. One will have lack of co-ordination in handling the vehicle. Yawning is a sure sign that it is time for a rest.

When starting out on a long trip, never leave at a time when you would be normally asleep. Your body will betray you and fatigue will over take you. Regain your control and be a wide awake driver.

Dez Miklós, Hamilton

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