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Drowsy Drivers
are less risky in city traffic than on country roads

By: James R. Davis

There are two kinds of drowsy drivers:

  • You

  • The other guy

Both can kill you.

Maybe I should offer a definition for 'drowsy' before launching any further into this discussion. There are two kinds of fatigue: physical and mental. When a person is experiencing mental fatigue he is, as far as I'm concerned, both tired and drowsy. This is far more than a state of being close to falling asleep. It involves:
  • loss of alertness

  • decreased ability (and/or willingness) to scan and recognize danger

  • increased reaction times

  • decreased motivation (willingness, again)

  • slower mental processes like decision making

I suppose it has escaped none of you that these are exactly the same symptoms evidenced by a person who is intoxicated or using certain medications (read: drugs).

What is particularly dangerous, it seems to me, is that a drowsy driver is sometimes not even aware of his diminished capacities. Take, for example, the driver who is suffering from 'road hypnosis' who can be seen actually driving his vehicle (subconsciously) yet is oblivious to hazards in the road ahead and who does not even realize that his lack of hazard detection (or collision avoidance) activity is itself a hazard.

It turns out that drowsy drivers are more dangerous to you if they are driving on country roads away from traffic than if they find themselves having to contend with city traffic. This, because when driving in city traffic they receive relatively frequent 'notice' of their drowsiness - sometimes because they hear/feel their tires running over lane dividers, sometimes because other drivers honk their horns or flash their lights in an effort to get their attention, sometimes because they are forced to make more decisions (shifting, for example).

If it turns out that YOU are the drowsy driver, the odds of falling asleep are relatively small. Operating a motorcycle involves so much activity and attention that it is very rare indeed that a rider will fall asleep. On the other hand, because it does take so much attention and alertness to handle a motorcycle, drowsiness should be a major concern to all of us.

Similarly, statistics gathered by accident investigators suggest that very few accidents happen because a car/truck driver actually falls asleep as compared to those that happen because a drowsy driver fails to detect a hazard or fails to take proper collision avoidance action.

Since a drowsy driver is often unaware of how diminished his capacities are, if you are tired you are well advised to stop driving as soon as possible. If you are away from city traffic, be extraordinarily careful until you can find a place to stop for some rest or for the night because you will receive far less 'notice' or reminders of your drowsiness than if you are driving in normal city traffic.

Copyright © 1992 - 2022 by The Master Strategy Group, all rights reserved.

(James R. Davis is a recognized expert witness in the fields of Motorcycle Safety/Dynamics.)

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