A new study has found that sleep deprivation is one of the major causes of motor vehicle crashes among young Australian drivers. Hooning around while drunk is apparently secondary.
Sleeping driver picture from Shutterstock
Pediatric researchers from the University of Sydney examined the association between sleep and motor vehicle crashes by interviewing 20,822 newly licensed drivers between the ages of 17 and 24. They found that a lack of sufficient sleep significantly increased the risk of crashing for young drivers, particularly on weekend nights.
Additionally, the study found that while approximately 80 per cent of young adult’s driving occurs during the daytime, around 60 per cent of young driver deaths occur once the sun goes down.
"Sleeping [no more than] six hours a night is enough to put young drivers at significant risk of having a car crash. With work, study and social commitments, especially on weekends, it is easy to miss out on the extra hours of sleep we need," associate professor Alexandra Martiniuk said in a statement.
"The findings point to the urgent need for education campaigns targeting young drivers, especially the newly licensed, around the importance of sleep and road safety."
As the report notes, sleepiness is associated with lapses in attention, slowed reaction time and impairments in judgment. But what about all the other contributing factors that make night crashes more likely, such as poorer road vision and a higher likelihood to be intoxicated or engaged in reckless driving?
Rather lamely, the researchers suggest that sleepiness can lead to increased aggression and risky behavior "effects that are also magnified by alcohol consumption".
The report concludes that changes to road design and education campaigns are needed to reduce the seriousness of crashes due to sleepiness. In the meantime, young drivers are urged to use rest stops, drink coffee and play the radio during nocturnal jaunts.