Most people know that a lack of sleep can make you grumpy, cause your skin to age more rapidly and affect your concentration, but sleep deprivation can also seriously impede your ability to drive safely with fatigue a being major factor in up to 1 in 5 road crashes.
According to experts, remaining awake for periods in excess of 18 hours can even impair abilities to a degree that is comparable to exceeding the drink drive limit in many countries. According to the National Sleep Foundation, drowsy driving is dangerous because sleep deprivation can have similar effects on your body as drinking alcohol. Being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive like you have a blood alcohol level of .05 (for reference, .08 is considered drunk). If you’ve been awake for a full 24 hours and drive – say, after a night where you just couldn’t fall asleep – it’s like you have a blood alcohol level of .10.
Both drowsy driving and drunk driving make it hard to pay attention to the road, and negatively impact how well you can make fast decisions. But as similar as they are, drowsy driving and drunk driving don’t always look the same on the road. A drunk driver can often drive slowly and try to react, but a drowsy driver can nod off while still going fast. So, drowsy drivers don't always brake or swerve if something happens in front of them.
A Ford-commissioned ‘Sleep Suit’ now enables wearers to experience in a safe environment the debilitating effects that tiredness can have.
“We added special goggles to replicate microsleeps; an uncontrollable response to tiredness that can mean driving blind for 10 seconds or more, even while your eyes are still open,” said Dr Gundolf Meyer‑Hentschel, CEO, Meyer‑Hentschel Institute, who developed the ‘Sleep Suit’. “I wouldn’t want to drive, or get in a car with someone, at this level of sleep deprivation and the hope is those who experience it will go away with a greater respect for the importance of sleep.”
Connected to a smartphone app, the goggles can be set to simulate the brain shutting down and the driver effectively seeing nothing ahead of them for half a second, then for increasingly longer periods, up to 10 seconds. Worn together with a specially designed cap, vest, arm and ankle bands – with a combined weight of more than 18 kilogrammes – the overall effect offers an insight into the degree to which tired drivers are impaired.
“Sobering up is the only cure for being over the legal alcohol limit to drive and sleep really is the only cure for tiredness. Pulling over when it’s safe to do so, then having a caffeinated drink and napping for 20 minutes can make a life or death difference, and if that doesn’t work then you should really find another way home,” added Dr Gundolf.