Vibrations in cars to blame for driver drowsiness, say researchers

By DPA | 8 November 2018

BERLIN: It takes just 15 minutes of a car's gentle vibrations to reduce your alertness and induce drowsiness, say researchers who are calling on car manufacturers to save lives by reducing vibrations in cars.

"Our study shows steady vibrations at low frequencies - the kind we experience when driving cars and trucks - progressively induce sleepiness even among people who are well rested and healthy," says the study's chief researcher Stephen Robinson.

The study was carried out by the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, where around 20 per cent of fatal road accidents are caused by tired drivers. The numbers are similarly high in Europe, with one in six road deaths in Germany being caused by fatigue.

"From 15 minutes of getting in the car, drowsiness has already begun to take hold. In half an hour, it's making a significant impact on your ability to stay concentrated and alert," Robinson says.

Driving when tired can be even riskier than drink-driving, and in some countries such as Germany the number of deaths caused by falling asleep at the wheel is twice as high as the number caused by driving under the influence of alcohol.

The tests monitored the heart rates of 15 volunteers in a virtual simulator built to replicate the experience of driving on a monotonous two-lane highway, and found significantly higher levels of tiredness in the subjects when they felt low-frequency vibrations than when no vibrations were felt.

The researchers said their results also hinted at the possibility of "good vibrations" being able to have the opposite effect of keeping drivers awake.

The team is now calling on car companies to implement new seat designs to reduce the lulling effect and vibration-induced sleepiness.

Until then, car safety experts recommend stopping the car and getting some sleep the moment you notice yourself getting tired at the wheel.

Contrary to common belief, opening the window, cranking up the music and cracking open an energy drink won't help you eliminate fatigue.

Road safety experts say only sleep helps, which is why it is so important to get enough of it before getting behind the wheel. In addition, you should take a break every two hours while driving – or earlier if you feel acute fatigue, of course.

It may be sensible to drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages before having a quick sleep in a rest area. Since the caffeine only takes effect after half an hour or so, it won’t prevent you from falling asleep, but will get to work after you wake up from your nap. Another way to get yourself going again after a nap is simply to do a bit of exercise.