No full braking, no evasive maneuvers. If you fall asleep at the wheel of your car, you no longer react. As a result, fatigue-related accidents result in a disproportionately high number of serious injuries and fatalities, as the ADAC accident research institute has determined. The experts’ explanation: in these accidents, vehicles often run off the road at high speed.
An accident is usually only considered fatigue-related if the person who caused it admits it to the police. But then he could face a suspension of his driver’s license, a heavy fine, and possibly even a prison sentence of several years. Many experts therefore believe that the number of unreported cases is high. The official number is: fatigue was the cause of 1940 traffic accidents with personal injury in 2017.
nodding off at the wheel
Anonymous surveys usually give higher values. In a survey conducted by the german traffic safety council (dvr), one in four drivers admitted to having dozed off at the wheel at least once. For truck drivers it was even almost half.
Most of the time it happens when the traffic requires less attention than on winding roads or at a traffic light crossing. "Right lane of the highway, cruise control on, little traffic- this is the classic", says dr. Hans-Gunter weeb, member of the board of the german society for sleep research and sleep medicine.
However, many drivers think they have everything under control. According to the DVR survey, 43 percent believe they can safely predict when they will fall asleep. This overestimation causes for example carelessness on vacation trips. "If you leave on two to three hours’ sleep and make it from munich to sicily, you’re still considered "held", criticizes white.
However, sleep duration and quality cannot always be influenced well. Some people lie awake because of worry, stress or a mental condition. Or the night’s rest is not very restful, for example because of breathing stops. Those affected wake up feeling tired, are constantly tired, and many snore loudly.
Typical performance lows
Some people have to get behind the wheel at a time when they would otherwise still be asleep. It’s not without reason that most fatigue-related accidents occur between four and seven o’clock in the morning. A second peak can be found in the early afternoon until around 3 p.m., when the inner clock causes a performance low.
Anyone suffering from a sleep disorder should have it diagnosed and treated at a sleep medicine center. the example of patients with breathing disorders shows just how much this can achieve. Respiratory pressure mask therapy halved accident rates in a french study.
Measures against fatigue
But what can you do if you simply haven’t slept well and have a long drive ahead of you?? "Then you should not overestimate yourself, but take a break at the first signs of fatigue", says anna-sophie Borries, DVR’s fatigue accident prevention officer. And heed the tips in the box (below). Opening windows or turning up the radio only helps a little and only for a short time.
In the meantime, there are technical aids that warn against second-second sleep at the wheel. Assistance systems primarily analyze steering behavior, which becomes more erratic when the driver is tired, and then warn the driver with a flashing coffee cup, for example. Even in some mid-range cars, such systems are now installed, often even as standard equipment.