I've blogged before about the dangers of driving while sleepy, and I can't emphasize how dangerous and widespread it is. According to the National Sleep Foundation, over 60 percent of Americans admit to driving while feeling drowsy. Even more shocking is that at least 37 percent of respondents said they had actually fallen asleep while driving. People with sleep apnea are twice as likely to be involved in collisions caused by sleep deprivation.
The number of accidents caused by sleepy drivers may be about to decline. Testing is already underway in Europe for something known as a "road train," a train of cars that are wirelessly controlled by a lead vehicle. Drivers of the individual cars are then free to take their eyes off the road and do many things a driver cannot usually do, like read, eat, work -- even sleep.
This mode of transportation could be available as soon as 2021, and would certainly cut down on the number of collisions caused by human error, especially drowsy driving. The individual cars would have to be specially engineered for advanced steering and wireless control of acceleration and speed; you could not use your current car in the occasional road train on particularly difficult Mondays. Still, the idea is not only pretty cool but also pretty safe: the name for the European commission overseeing the project is SARTRE, which stands for the European Commission-backed Safe Road Trains for the Environment. It is also exceptionally fuel-efficient.
It's practically human nature to underestimate the negative effects associated with fatigue and sleep deprivation and, conversely, overestimate our abilities to overcome them while driving. The National Sleep Foundation reports that very few parents speak to their children about the dangers of driving while drowsy; teen drivers are just as, if not more likely, than adults to drive while sleepy. Remember: if you are the least bit sleepy, don't drive. Do not put yourself or others in danger.
Michael J. Breus, Ph.D.
The Sleep Doctor™