“Driving...” by Stig Nygaard is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Why Does Driving Make Us Sleepy?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
“Driving...” by Stig Nygaard is licensed under CC BY 2.0Prof. Stephen R Robinson PhD
Discipline Leader, Psychology
School of Health and Biomedical Sciences
RMIT University

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Around the world, driver drowsiness and fatigue are estimated to contribute to 250,000 deaths on the road per year. Current research in this area has focused on detecting when drivers become drowsy, by examining their eye movements or steering patterns, and then alerting the driver with a warning tone or vibration of the steering wheel. Rather than this reactive approach, we are interested in helping to prevent drivers from becoming drowsy in the first place.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: We have shown that particular frequencies of vibrations transmitted through a car seat can begin to induce drowsiness in 15-30 minutes. This is significant because vibrations were not previously known to be a contributor to driver drowsiness. 

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: In the future it may be possible to reduce driver drowsiness, and reduce the road toll by redesigning vehicle seats to eliminate the ‘bad’ vibrations. Other causes of driver drowsiness (eg. lack of enough sleep) are important contributors to the road toll, but are more difficult for motor vehicle manufacturers to address.

Readers should be reminded that fatigue can have dire consequences if not managed properly. If a driver becomes aware that they are becoming drowsy and losing concentration, the safest course of action is to pull over and change drivers or take a ‘power nap’. 

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: We hope that it will be possible to develop new vehicle design standards that will require manufacturers to eliminate those frequencies of vibration that contribute to driver drowsiness.

So far, we have only investigated a narrow part of the vibration spectrum. Drivers are exposed to a wide range of frequencies of vibration and we need to systematically examine all of these so that we can be certain which vibration frequencies are ‘bad’ and which are ‘good’. We also do not yet know how other factors interact with vibrations to worsen drowsiness (such as driver age or pre-existing conditions like obstructive sleep apnea). 

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Our team is interested in partnering with manufacturers so that we can translate our research findings into better outcomes for the community.

No disclosures/ 


Ergonomics. 2018 Jun 6:1-19. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2018.1482373.

The Effects of Physical Vibration on Heart Rate Variability as a Measure of Drowsiness.
Zhang N1, Fard M1, Bhuiyan MHU1, Verhagen D2, Azari MF3, Robinson SR3. 

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Last Updated on July 7, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD