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Researchers study the sleep-deprived driver

Sleep deprivation

A greater threat on the road than alcohol?

May 9, 1997
Web posted at: 11:18 p.m. EDT (0318 GMT)

From Correspondent Dan Rutz

PALO ALTO, California (CNN) -- It is generally agreed that few things are worse than a drunken driver, but research suggests that accident investigators need to consider another risk that may be just as dangerous: the sleep-deprived driver.


Many experts believe that fatigue can be at least as debilitating as alcohol, and may actually be a greater threat on the highway.

Scientists at Stanford University are conducting experiments comparing the reaction time of volunteers who have had too much to drink with others who have not had enough sleep.

"I think we really need to learn how bad it is," says Dr. William Dement, Stanford's chief sleep researcher.

Dement says the researchers have found that fatigue is a serious threat to drivers, and that fatigue combined with even a small amount of alcohol is especially dangerous.

Awareness lags on dangers of 'drowsy driving'

"We need to understand this and take it into account so we don't call every accident with a molecule of alcohol an alcohol-related accident," Dement says. "Like someone had a half of glass of wine and we don't look at the sleep schedule."


"I would say right now the social consciousness of this country on the issue of sleepiness and driving is at the same place it was 30 years ago for drinking and driving," says Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard University. "Drowsy driving needs to be categorized in the same way because it's just as dangerous."

Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have done much to publicize alcohol excess, but society remains fascinated with bright lights and cities that never sleep.

By studying the effects of sleep-deprivation and driving in the safety of the laboratory, the Stanford scientists hope to provide an eye opener for the outside world.


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