NEWS Investigating link between sleep and car crashes

Investigating link between sleep and car crashes
Reducing New Zealand’s troubling road tolls is the goal of a new University of Otago study that will investigate the link between teenage sleep patterns and their driving behaviour.

Otago clinical psychology doctoral student Claudia Ousset said that globally, 16-18 year olds were at the highest risk of serious road crashes compared to other age groups.

“Many of these crashes involve dangerous and/or inattentive driving by teenage drivers.

“We saw in the data that tired drivers were six times more likely to be involved in a crash than alert drivers, and that sleep deprivation (less than eight hours per night) among teens had a disproportionate impact on crash rates.”

The most recent survey conducted in 2021 showed that 48 percent of teens don’t get enough sleep, she said.

“This is concerning not only because of its association with an increased risk of motor vehicle crashes, but also because of its impact on adolescents’ academic achievement, physical and mental health, and increased risk behavior.”

Dr Vanessa Beanland, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Otago and director and researcher at the Otago Transport Research Network, said there had been similar research overseas, but little was known about adolescent sleep and driving in New Zealand.

“Our roads are more challenging than those in most other developed countries – they are often narrow, with hills and curves.

“Our vehicles are also older than in other developed countries, especially those most frequently driven by teenagers, which often means they have fewer safety features.

“Finally, we have one of the lowest ages to get a driver’s licence, as teenagers can drive unsupervised from the age of 16.5.

“All of these attributes increase the risk of driving.

“If we can identify certain traits—such as inattention and daydreaming—that make adolescents more likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents, it may be possible to identify these factors in the permit process and provide them with more support and education, not just for their safety, but the safety of everyone else on the road.”

As part of the study, the duo say they will look at a range of sleep-related factors, including fatigue, alertness, thinking patterns, general well-being and personality.

“After examining the interplay between these factors, we plan to develop an intervention that could improve adolescents’ sleep health and, hopefully, in turn improve their driving behaviour,” Miss Ousset said.

The study also aims to encourage more education in secondary schools about sleep hygiene and the consequences of sleep deprivation, such as increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.

More than 530 teens took part, but the research team hopes to have 1,000 participants.

It is hoped that the survey will be completed by the end of March and data analysis will begin.

The wider research program will continue over the next three years.

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