Research compares impairment from drowsy driving to that experienced by drink drivers. “Sleep Suit” goggles simulate microsleeps

 Most people know that a lack of sleep can make you grumpy, cause your skin to age more rapidly and affect your concentration, but sleep deprivation can also seriously impede your ability to drive safely with fatigue a being major factor in up to 1 in 5 road crashes.

According to experts, remaining awake for periods in excess of 18 hours can even impair abilities to a degree that is comporable to exceeding the drink drive limit  in many countries. A Ford-commissioned “Sleep Suit” now enables wearers to experience in a safe environment the debilitating effects that tiredness can have.

“We added special goggles to replicate microsleeps; an uncontrollable response to tiredness that can mean driving blind for 10 seconds or more, even while your eyes are still open,” said Dr Gundolf Meyer‑Hentschel, CEO, Meyer‑Hentschel Institute, who developed the “Sleep Suit”. “I wouldn’t want to drive, or get in a car with someone, at this level of sleep deprivation and the hope is those who experience it will go away with a greater respect for the importance of sleep.”

Connected to a smartphone app, the goggles can be set to simulate the brain shutting down and the driver effectively seeing nothing ahead of them for half a second, then for increasingly longer periods, up to 10 seconds. Worn together with a specially designed cap, vest, arm and ankle bands – with a combined weight of more than 18 kilogrammes – the overall effect offers an insight into the degree to which tired drivers are impaired.

“Sobering up is the only cure for being over the legal alcohol limit to drive and sleep really is the only cure for tiredness. Pulling over when it’s safe to do so, then having a caffeinated drink and napping for 20 minutes can make a life or death difference, and if that doesn’t work then you should really find another way home,” added Dr Gundolf.

Transport accidents are the leading cause of death among young people, and in 2019 Ford is integrating training with the suit into its Ford Driving Skills for Life (Ford DSFL), a free young driver training programme for 17- to 24-year-olds.