Funded by Time4Sleep.co.uk, the experiment concluded that reaction times become significantly slower and the risk of falling asleep at the wheel increases significantly through a lack of sleep, even in the short term.
The experiment tested the driving ability of triplets Robert, Steven and Patrick Davis, the morning after they experienced different periods of sleep.
Robert was afforded the luxury of a full night’s (normal) sleep, Steven a disrupted sleep (thanks to a lifelike robotic baby) while Patrick remained awake all night.
The next day the triplets each drove the same driving simulator, made as true to real life as possible. They were asked to stick to the inside lane of the three-lane motorway and drive at a constant speed of 60mph. They also had their heart rate monitored.
The results revealed that even disrupted sleep can have a huge impact on driving ability.
Robert (normal sleep) had no fatigue alerts from the heart rate monitor and the fewest lane departures (30 departures and a total of 39 seconds out of his lane).
This compared to four fatigue alerts and 58 lane departures lasting a total of one minute and 40 seconds for Steven (disrupted sleep), while Patrick (no sleep) recorded 12 fatigue alerts and 188 lane departures, equivalent to six minutes and 26 seconds.
Interestingly, Steven, who had a disrupted sleep, had the slowest reaction time (a mean of 1.66 seconds) compared to 1.48 seconds for ‘no sleep’ Patrick and 1.02 seconds for ‘full sleep’ Robert.
In a separate Time4Sleep survey of 1,000 drivers, 83% of participants admitted to driving tired while a third felt they had put others at risk by doing so.
Simon Tong, principal psychologist at TRL, said: “The findings of our experiment reveal just how important it is to only undertake driving when feeling alert and having had sufficient sleep. The key finding here was how affected Steven was with disrupted sleep as this is most common to real life.
“One dangerous aspect of fatigue is how it can come and go quite suddenly. You can get a false impression that you’ve overcome it, only to find that it strikes again a short time later when you perhaps aren’t expecting it.
“Robert’s drive was near perfect, which is to be expected of someone who has had 7-8 hours sleep as he did. However, Patrick was driving on a different level, with terribly slow responses, imprecise motor skills and a self-confessed lack of control.
“He was unable to stick to a lane or speed and his driving performance was akin to being drunk, if not worse.”
Iain Temperton, director of communications for Road Safety GB, added: “We commend Time4Sleep.co.uk for investing the time and effort to highlight this very important issue.
“As you hear in the video, one in five road crashes are attributed to fatigue, which makes it a significant factor when considering the safety of our road network.
“Many of us have experienced disturbed nights looking after children and many of us have also driven the following day. Driving or riding a vehicle is a responsibility; this video clearly shows us that doing so on reduced levels of sleep increases the likelihood of death or injury.
“I would urge all drivers to watch this video.”