STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Loss of co-ordination, motor skills, response times, vision, attentiveness and even cognitive ability and attitude are all clear signs of a drunk driver. They’re also very similar to characteristics of a driver who hasn’t had enough sleep, a new study by Volvo Trucks in Sweden has found.
The study reveals immense similarities — as well as crucial differences — between the effects of alcohol and drowsiness on a driver. Volvo Trucks has long experience of investigating the causes of accidents and in recent years it has become increasingly interested in studying drowsiness from this perspective. Medical research indicates that the number of traffic fatalities — about 40,000 per year in Europe alone — would be able to be drastically reduced if fewer road-users were drowsy.
Drowsiness caused by fatigue could be just as dangerous to drivers as alcohol impairment.
In order to be able to develop systems that help a driver drive safely, Volvo Trucks has taken “a holistic perspective encompassing everything that contributes to increased traffic safety,” including the ESP (Electronic Stability Programme) that helps prevent the vehicle from rolling over.
Volvo says a series of real-life tests verified the facts regarding what actually happens when a driver gets behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol. The study, which was carried out in a closed-off area at Volvo’s proving ground in Hällered in Sweden, was authorized within the framework of the permit that Volvo Trucks had previously received from the Swedish government.
The tests can be used to identify tired or drowsy drivers, Volvo says. The study uses a variety of measures, including two cameras fitted above the instrument panel that monitor the driver’s eye movements. “We wanted our suspicions confirmed in a scientific study using real drivers in an authentic driving environment and using real vehicles — all so as to know with precision how a driver reacts both when drowsy and when under the influence of alcohol,” says Peter Kronberg, researcher at Volvo Technology.
“The test helps increase knowledge about how factors such as tiredness, the effects of alcohol and other negative input can affect driving ability. This is knowledge that we need for our ongoing development of methods to sound the alert in time — before accidents occur.
“We’ve been able to confirm the similarities between drowsiness and alcohol when it comes to impaired road safety. The similarities were remarkable — the symptoms were very similar in our research.”