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Stop Tired Drivers Getting Behind Wheel: Report

Sleep starved Australians should be treated like drunks and barred from getting behind the wheel of a car to stop them harming other drivers, a hard-hitting new report recommends.

The Sleep Health Foundation Report by Deloitte Access Economics, released today, calculates that four in ten Australians routinely fail to get the sleep they need.

Inadequate sleep is a major health and safety hazard that costs the country $66 billion annually and contributes to the death of about 3,000 people a year. The report estimates more than one Australian will die every day – 394 a year - from falling asleep at the wheel of a vehicle or from industrial accidents due to lack of sleep.

Sleepy drivers are such a hazard that Deloitte economists call for drastic measures to restrict driving without adequate sleep beforehand. “Police departments should devote as much attention to tired and fatigued drivers as they do to speeding and inebriated ones,” the report states. “Just as there are rules forbidding driving at more than a certain speed or after consuming an excessive amount of alcohol, there may be a case for restrictions on driving where the driver has had less than a set minimum hours of sleep in the past 24 hours.” It acknowledges that methods of policing this restriction are yet to evolve.

Professor David Hillman of the Sleep Health Foundation, which commissioned the report, welcomed the recommendation. “More than 185,000 people have died on Australian roads since the road toll began in 1925,” Professor Hillman says. “When you consider that one in every five car accidents is related to fatigue that is a lot of harm caused by people not getting the sleep they need.”

“For too many people, driving tired is a dangerously normal part of everyday life,” Professor Hillman says. “This behaviour is causing crashes and costing lives. It’s time we treated sleep deprivation like alcohol and regulated against it.”

While the report doesn’t state the minimum sleep hours that should be required in a 24-hour period, Professor Hillman advises that most adults require 7 to 8 hours sleep per night. In the future it is likely that a test will be developed that allows police to check fatigue levels like an alcohol breathalyser detects inebriation.

The report canvasses all the costs of sleep deprivation, including health conditions like heart disease, stroke, obesity and depression all strongly linked to poor sleep. Besides driving safety, it also recommends stronger policies to prevent, diagnose and treat sleep disorders like insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea known to cause daytime sleepiness. Regulations are needed to improve rostering, lighting and other conditions for shift workers and limit late-night use of blue-light emitting devices that disturb the body clock.

A large scale public education campaign is also recommended to draw national attention to the dangers of drowsy driving. “Just like the very successful campaign against passive smoking from cigarettes, the program needs to emphasise that this behaviour is doing deadly harm to others,” Professor Hillman says.

To view the report, Asleep on the Job: Costs of Inadequate Sleep in Australia, visit www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au

For more information and interview requests, contact Lucy Williams on mobile: 0403 753 028.

Drowsy Driving: Signs You’re in Trouble

  • Sleepiness
  • Eyes closing or going out of focus
  • Trouble keeping the head up
  • Cannot stop yawning
  • Wandering thoughts, difficulty concentrating on driving
  • Cannot remember recent driving
  • Drifting between lanes, off the road or missing signs
  • Very heavy eyelids
  • Slow blinking


How to Stay Safe on the Roads

  • Make sure you've had at least seven hours sleep the night before a long drive
  • If you have to drive for long periods of time, try to take a short power nap after lunch
  • Share the driving with someone else and help keep each other awake
  • Switch drivers every two hours
  • Don't drive between 1am and 6am
  • Don't drive if you've been awake for more than 17 hours
  • Pull over and take a short nap if you notice difficulty keeping your eyes open, or find yourself relying on loud music, energy drinks or fresh air to stay awake

About Sleep Health Foundation

The Sleep Health Foundation is Australia’s leading advocate for sleep health. The Foundation aims to improve people’s sleep and their lives by promoting healthy sleep, raising awareness of sleep disorders and building partnerships with organisations. Free, independent, expert-reviewed fact sheets on every aspect of sleep are available at www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au.