Every year hundreds of car accidents in the Philippines happen due to road fatigue or the gradual loss of alertness that leads to occasional nodding off and then sleep.
While it may be hard to determine which of the around 90,000 road accidents that occur in the country every year could be attributed to road fatigue and drowsiness (data from the Public Works department, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority and the Philippine National Police-Highway Patrol Group showed that in 2011 alone, 85,820 road accidents were recorded wherein close to 2,000 individual were killed while almost 29,000 people were injured.
While there is still no way of measuring whether a driver involved in the road accident was affected by road fatigue or was drowsy—unlike alcohol—the British Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents estimates that driver fatigue contributes up to 20 percent of road accidents and up to a quarter of fatal and serious accidents.
Interestingly, researchers at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom found that driver tiredness after a few hours has the same effect as being over the drink-driving limit.
The study conducted in 2010 revealed that just three hours behind the wheel at night can make motorists drive as badly as if they were drunk.
Moreover, the same study found that even two hours of driving in the dark can affect performance so severely it is the same as having a couple of drinks.
To assess the extent to which tiredness hinders driving performance, a separate study conducted by researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands recruited 14 healthy young men aged 21 to 25.
Under supervision, each one drove for two, four and eight hours at a time through the night where they had to maintain a constant 129 kph in the highway and remain in the center of the traffic lane.
The results, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, showed that after just two hours behind the wheel, the drivers were already making the same mistakes they would if they had 0.05 percent blood alcohol content, which is already more than half the legal drink drive limit in the United Kingdom.
But while the maximum number of hours to safely drive per day varies from driver to driver and situation to situation, it should be interesting to note that a law for professional truck and public transport drivers in Europe requires them to not to drive without a break—driving time should not exceed 9 hours a day or 56 hours a week.
After 4 and a half hours, drivers must take a break of at least 45 minutes.
While we have no such law here, it would still be prudent for us Filipino drivers especially those planning on a long drive this Holy Week not to press on with the journey when they start to feel drowsy.
Don’t try to be macho and plough on regardless. Stop if you feel tired.
Build in stops
If you’re planning a long drive to reach your destination at a certain time, like if you’re catching the only Ro-Ro (roll-on-roll-off) or ferry trip, don’t forget to include stops or breaks when calculating your set-off time. Incorporate a 15-minute break every two hours into your journey plan.
Remember, if you don’t get enough sleep you go in to sleep debt and you owe yourself more sleep. The only way to repay this debt is by sleeping. Until you catch up on your sleep, you will have a greater risk of having a fatigue related crash. In fact, during a 4 second microsleep (occurs even when a person’s eyes are open) a vehicle traveling at 100 kph will travel 111 meters while completely out of the driver’s control—that’s the length of eight buses lined up end to end.
If you can’t sleep that long at least avoid alcohol and don’t take medications that have a relaxing effect.
Keep a caffeinated drink at hand but keep in mind that caffeine is not a sleep replacement, sooner or later you will have to give in to your body’s demand to doze off.
Better still, drive with a buddy. When you have a driving buddy, you can take turns driving and sleeping.