Driving distracted: The link between fatigue and losing concentration on the road

Understanding the link between fatigue and distraction is a vital step towards preventing road accidents.

We don’t need to tell you that distracted drivers are a significant problem on today’s roads, or that the consequences of distracted driving can be horrific.

In America, a reported 25% of motor vehicle crash fatalities are due to distracted driving. In reality, the figure is likely to be even higher – unless they admit to it, it’s hard to accurately measure whether a driver was distracted at the time they had an accident.

The top four causes of fatal car accidents are: 

  • speeding
  • alcohol consumption
  • fatigue 
  • inattention/distraction. 

All four of these causes are preventable. In terms of speeding and alcohol/drug consumption, we know what needs to happen at an individual level and in terms of road monitoring and law enforcement. 

When it comes to fatigue and distraction, however, the problem is more complex.

Distracted how?

So, what exactly is meant by ‘distracted driving’? Broadly speaking, it means that a driver is paying attention to another activity while they’re driving. 

Because we’re not as good at multitasking as we’d like to think we are, when our focus shifts to another activity it can reduce our standard of driving. We may:

  • be less observant
  • react slowly to hazards
  • speed without realising
  • decrease following distance
  • make poor driving decisions.

Driver distractions can be divided into two categories:

  1. External
  2. Cognitive

External distraction includes breaks in concentration that are:

  • visual (taking your eyes off the road)
  • manual (taking your hands off the wheel)
  • auditory (not hearing as well as possible).

Cognitive distraction is internal and happens when you’re unable to remain attentive or are thinking about something unrelated to driving. Typically, cognitive distractions mean that you pay less attention to scanning the road environment and checking your mirrors for hazards. You may also underestimate how distracted you are.

Where does fatigue come in?

Fatigue intensifies the extent to which we are distracted, and in fact is the underlying cause of distracted driving. 

When it comes to external distractions (for instance, when our attention is diverted by something we see on the side of the road), they’re more likely to impact our driving performance when our attention is already compromised because we’re tired. 

Cognitive distraction is even more closely linked to fatigue. The ‘wandering mind’ or ‘zoning out’ we experience when we’re cognitively distracted is often a direct result of fatigue.

Detection and prevention

Detecting signs of fatigue and distraction is crucial to preventing accidents. Over the years, different technologies have been developed in order to do this, from monitoring steering patterns and vehicle position to observing the driver’s eyes and face. 

But cognitive distraction can’t be accurately detected using these techniques because there aren’t always visible changes in the driver. That’s where brainwave monitoring comes in. Our SmartCap Life wearable solution

  • regularly measures a driver’s brainwaves using state-of-the-art electroencephalogram (EEG) technology
  • detects driver fatigue in real time
  • generates early warning alarms to warn drivers when they’re showing signs of fatigue and distraction. 

By accurately measuring and reporting fatigue and distraction based on brain activity, SmartCap is consistently delivering dramatic safety improvements, year after year, across industries including mining and road transport. Contact us today to find out more. 

Why count microsleeps when you can prevent them?