Tired drivers can reduce their chances of being involved in serious car accidents through a combination of caffeine and bright lights, a new Queensland University of Technology (QUT) study has shown.
According to the QUT’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety, 20 per cent of crashes in developed nations are the result of fatigue, and this issue is particularly prevalent among younger drivers.
Shamsi Shekari, a PhD student who conducted the research, tested a blue-green coloured light and caffeine on a group of 18- to 25-year-olds to see whether these factors affected daytime driving alertness.
She argued that young drivers are more prone to chronic sleep deprivation due to their work patterns, later brain development and higher rates of drugs and alcohol consumption.
The participants used a driving simulator while chewing caffeinated gum and wearing glasses that released a short wave blue-green light. Ms Shekari noted that light therapy is already being researched as a way of adjusting the circadian rhythms of pilots and shift workers to prevent fatigue.
“The two-week study included monitoring sleep-wake patterns, with a normal eight hours of time in bed in the first week being reduced to seven hours in the second week to produce chronic sleep deprivation in the participants,” she said.
“On the last three days, participants took test sessions, which involved recording their brain and heart activity, reaction times, assessment of their sleepiness and two 50-kilometre-long simulated drives each day.”
Drivers were also given placebo gum and inactive light glasses during certain parts of the experiment to ensure fairer results.
Positive impact of lights and caffeine
Ms Shekari confirmed that drivers who chewed caffeinated gum in combination with wearing light-emitting glasses showed less side-to-side movement on the simulator.
She claimed this proves they were more alert and had better control of the vehicle. The results also showed people who only consumed caffeine saw an improvement in their performance irrespective of the light-emitting glasses.
However, the research also indicated a gap between the participants’ reported tiredness levels and their driving ability. In other words, people underestimated the impact of fatigue, which could be dangerous, as many car safety advertisements currently focus their message on drivers pulling over when they feel drowsy.
The Centre for Road Safety lists tiredness as one of the top three biggest threats to motorists’ lives, with more people dying in fatigue-related crashes in 2012 than in incidents involving alcohol.