Australian Researchers Say Even Small Vibrations Can Lead to Drowsy Driving Accidents
You’re taking a long road trip on a lonely stretch of highway with little to hold your attention. Your eyelids start to droop, your head begins to nod, and your vision gets blurry. Suddenly you snap back into focus and realize that you’re driving on the shoulder or just crossed the centerline of the road. You’re able to quickly adjust the wheel and get back into your lane, but you might not be so lucky next time.
Although you consider yourself to be a safe driver, you could be one of the 20 percent of Americans who admitted to falling asleep at the wheel in the past year, according to the National Safety Council. Drowsy driving, a form of distracted driving, is a major problem in the U.S. because it:
- Makes drivers unable to pay full attention to the road.
- Negatively affects driver reaction time, particularly if they have to brake or steer suddenly.
- Interferes with a driver’s decision-making capabilities.
Most times, when someone falls asleep at the wheel, the assumption made is that they suffered from lack of sleep or some type of sleep disorder, took some kind of sleep-inducing medication, were driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or were just extremely bored during a long road trip. Who knew that the gentle vibrations from a car engine could lull a driver into a sleepy state soon after hitting the road?
At least that’s what a group of Australian researchers found when they studied what makes drivers fall asleep at the wheel. They concluded that when a vehicle’s motor is running, it produces steady vibrations at low frequencies, movements that can make even a well-rested driver feel tired and render them less able to perform the mental tasks required to safely operate a vehicle.
According to study author Mohammad Fard:
“We suspect that some frequencies of vibrations trigger drowsiness, particularly those near the frequency of theta brainwaves, which occur at the early stages of sleep. We examined the exact frequency of theta brainwaves (i.e. the frequency range of 4 Hz to 7 Hz), and found that such vibrations induce a significant drowsiness within 30 minutes.”
According to the study:
- After 15 minutes of vibration, the 15 volunteers studied showed some signs of drowsiness.
- After 30 minutes, they felt very drowsy and had to try hard to remain alert.
- The drowsiness increased over the test, peaking at 60 minutes.
The research also indicated that vibrations at different rates could actually have the opposite effect and help keep drivers awake, although they suggested that further study involving more participants is necessary to determine if and how variables such as age and sleep apnea might make someone more prone to vibration-induced drowsiness, and whether new vehicle design guidelines could reduce the vibrations entirely.
Prior to this study, little was known about a vehicle’s effect on the sleepiness of a driver, although a 2016 study published in Industrial Health explored the effects of whole-body vibration on a seated human in terms of alertness and drowsiness. The data concluded that exposure to vibration has significant effect on subjective sleepiness levels, human reaction times, and lapses of attention.
If you were injured in a Colorado car accident involving a distracted or drowsy driver, contact Colorado attorney Daniel R. Rosen for a free consultation. With more than three decades of experience handling auto accident cases, Dan is committed to getting fair compensation for those injured because of another’s negligence.