Stopping to take anap may help drivers deal with fatigue in the short run, research suggests.
"The person who actually stops and takes a short rest of maybe even 20 minutes has been shown to be fairly effective," said Prof. Mary Chipman, a public health researcher at the University of Toronto who is studying strategies to fight driver fatigue.
On Monday, a three-judge federal appeals panel in Washington started hearing oral arguments on trucking work rules, including how long they can stay on the road.
The insurance industry and safety groups have raised concerns in the U.S. about looser standards that may allow poorly trained, fatigued truckers to stay behind the wheel.
The trucking industry in the country counters that without longer work hours, there would be more inexperienced truckers on the roads, and that the death tolls from truck-related accidents and deaths per mile travelled have not increased.
Chipman and her colleagues have analyzed collision data collected between 1999 and 2004 in Ontario, looking for links between time of day and crashes.
It is argued that fatigue can be as debilitating as alcohol, but it is harder to study since there is no blood or breath test to identify unsafe levels of drowsiness, Chipman told CBC News Online on Monday.
That's why researchers are turning to a combination of driving simulators and physiological data from sleep labs to augment their studies.
"I think this physiological information will provide essential advice to people â¦ who are devising highways that will be much safer for people to drive on at night and in less alert situations."
Researchers at the University of Montreal are using driving simulators and sleep labs to look at shift workers such as police officers and nurses.
In 2003 for example, Jacques Bergeron of the driving simulation lab found that drivers taking a long, monotonous drive made more frequent andlarger steering-wheel movements, implying greater fatigue and less vigilance.
Rumble strips effective
Other studies show that rumble strips on major highways have a tremendous effect.
"That's a fairly simple environmental change," said Chipman. "If you're dozing off or are less alert, and your wheels hit the rumble strip at the edge of the road, that is a real wake-up call —and literally a wake-up call, as well as figuratively."
So far, Chipman's research has found that young male drivers are more likely to be in crashes at night, though they may be more likely to be out on the road at 2 a.m. comparedwith females the same age.
Data from Quebec have shown more young male drivers are crashing on highwaysthan on urban roads.
The researchers are sponsored by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
National Safe Driving Weekruns until Dec. 7.