Young Drivers: the Problem of Sleep

Young Drivers: the Problem of Sleep


I Wilson, A R Woodside, B Gunay, University of Ulster, UK



According to leading doctors and researchers the average human being requires at least eight hours sleep to provide for sixteen hours of sustained wakefulness. This project found that if people are deprived of much needed sleep at night they will become sleepy throughout the day and are more likely to fall asleep at inappropriate times. This has major implications for most of the population who drive and other road users. In NI whilst a low percentage of young people actually drive, their involvement in road traffic accidents and in particular, sleep-related accidents is substantial.

This paper investigates the tendency of young drivers to fall asleep at the wheel and the many reasons causing their lack of sleep. Young people by their very nature (youth) should be fit, healthy and able to cope with life, but nowadays with emphasis put on socializing, fast/convenience food and the increasing car culture, many are overweight and spend less time sleeping adequately.

This study highlights the possibility of deteriorated driving performance as a result of lack of sleep. Driver fatigue may be a contributing factor to one in five road traffic accidents and this is a potentially dangerous problem for road safety.

Driving standards for most age ranges whilst lacking of much needed sleep deteriorated notably. This project found, however, that the effect of driving with age group 17-24 years old and indeed 25-34 years old deteriorated more significantly than any other age range. This age group (17-24) was therefore highlighted as a high-risk group. Surveys from the 17-24 year old age group showed that more males than females tended to be drowsy at inappropriate times.

Sleep deprivation has the potential to affect all drivers, as not obtaining adequate sleep can be done without intend. For example, someone in a stressful high-powered job, who also have a family to care for? However, for the majority of the young driving population, this is not the case. The top priorities encountered by young people include, university, job (semi-skilled or lower), socialising and/or a part-time job. Lack of sleep is derived as a result of an over zealous social life (which is considered to be part of university life) running late with an assignment or working a weekend job.

In Northern Ireland people under the age of 25 comprise 37% of the country?s overall population. Of this 37% approximately one quarter of them are of legal driving age (17 ages +). According to Police Service of NI and Department of Environment data, young car drivers (17-25) form a lesser percentage of NI car drivers, however they are attributable for a sizeable amount of fatal and serious road traffic injury accidents.

Young male car drivers total 6.9% of all NI car drivers, but are attributable for 27.4% of all fatal and serious injury accidents. Young female car drivers form 5.5% of all NI car drivers and account for 6.7% of injurious accidents. It is clear that of all age groups of drivers, it is the young drivers that are contributing to more road traffic accidents that any other age group.

The investigation also noted that people, who tend to be ?dozy? per se, were at more risk of being involved in a sleep-related accident that those who were of an ?alert? behaviour normally. It emphasises the risk of young drivers, particularly young male drivers and the danger to themselves and other as a result of lack of sleep.

This research is beneficial as it proves that there is a definite link between drowsiness and driver performance and will therefore enable measures to be designed to eradicate the risk of road traffic accidents occurring as a result of drowsiness.

Concluding Remarks Young people in society are the future, they need to learn from example but also to set example to the next generation of drivers. It is unfortunate that this study highlighted the problems that young drivers are causing for road safety. As adults they need to be made more aware and responsible for their actions. But as they make up the smallest age group of drivers but the largest in terms of accidents; their responsibility must be questioned.

This paper concludes that young drivers are a danger to the society in which they live as a result of their daily behaviour and lifestyle. Young males are in general ?high risk? in NI, this is somewhat confirmed in relation to total number of accidents that they cause or contribute to. One well-known principal causation being speed, but with an increasing number of incidents attributable to driver fatigue, it is stressing lack of sleep as a major contentious issue for the new century as we constantly push forward a 24/7 hour society.

Recommendations Awareness is a more successful key to reduce these types of accidents. Detection is very difficult for police officers as there are no mechanisms available to them for identify sleep deprivation. Educating drivers through a range of mediums would be more beneficial than many in-car technology systems (as these often detect sleepiness when it is too late and the driver does not need to be asleep to be involved in a sleep-related accident).


Association for European Transport