DRIVER RISK: FATIGUE ISSUES IN THE POLICE SERVICE
Published Sun, 14/02/2016 - 09:11
Sgt Yvonne Taylor of North Yorkshire Police presents her own investigations into this under-reported area of concern
I joined West Yorkshire Police in February 1996 and was posted to Pontefract Division. I almost immediately had an interest in roads policing and was successful in the application process to join “traffic” in 2000 where I was posted to Holbeck Division in Leeds.
I then spent the next few years working from various stations within West Yorkshire, before transferring to North Yorkshire Police in January 2006. By that time, I was already living in the North Yorkshire area and was finding the commute difficult, particularly after night shifts. Perhaps that is where my interest in driver fatigue stemmed from?
I again spent many years on roads policing in North Yorkshire Police and continued to gain satisfaction in removing impaired drivers from the roads. I was frustrated in the difficulties encountered when dealing with drivers who were under the influence of drugs, and also those involved in collisions where there was no obvious cause and no driver admission forthcoming.
In 2009, I completed an instructors’ course in Drug Influence Recognition and Field impairment Testing, and in 2011, I secured the Arthur Troop Scholarship from the International Police Association and completed a course of training with the California Highway Patrol to become a Drug Recognition Expert. I have since gone on to become the lead trainer for drug impairment and drug recognition within North Yorkshire. This has undoubtedly been of benefit to my overall knowledge of all aspects of driver impairment.
I had been considering further study in the driver impairment field for a number of years and had visited different universities to discuss my options. Considering getting back into the educational field was daunting and certainly wasn’t going to be a decision that I took lightly; I completed my first degree in 1993 and my MSc in 1994, so I had been away from structured study for a long time.
At one university, I had been discouraged from studying on a part time basis if I was still intending to work full time, and had lots of unanswered questions that delayed me making the decision. After all, I did not want to start something without believing I could complete it.
When I visited the Institute for Transport Studies at Leeds University, however, things were very different. I spoke to Dr Samantha Jamson and Dr Natasha Merat. They believed that I could study part time whilst continuing to work full time. They also thought that there was the ability to add to current knowledge in the field in my chosen area of study.
After much deliberation, I began my journey in October 2011. This is a journey of between five and seven years. My research topic is “Fatigued Driving in Shift Workers – The Impact on Road Safety”.
The main focus of my research involves:
- engaging with groups classed as high risk by the UK government
- exploring the prevalence of fatigue amongst shift workers
- identifying what types of shifts cause the most problems
- determining whether drivers really recognise the extent of their fatigue
- examining currently used driver fatigue countermeasures
- establishing successful intervention methods
- educating both employers and employees in the risks of driver fatigue
Few studies have explored the issue of driver fatigue specifically in Police service shift workers, despite the belief that it is a problem amongst this group because of the variable and rotating shifts worked. I set about exploring this and completed a study of police officers and police staff within the four forces of the Yorkshire and Humber area: Humberside, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire. That study was a web-based questionnaire, to which I received more than 500 responses (a surprise in itself from suspicious officers and staff).
The main results proved a true eye-opener to the extent of fatigue amongst those particular shift workers:
- 77.6% of respondents were male, 22.4% female
- Ages ranged from 22 to 61 years
- 50.7% stated they did not sleep well
- 5.8% had been involved in a collision or road departure whilst travelling to or from work
- 51.9% had been involved in a ‘near miss’ incident (61.8% of those had been working a nightshift prior to the incident)
- 86.5% stated they felt sleepy whilst travelling to or from work
When you consider the numbers of shift workers generally, not just in the Police family, but also in all types of different industries and employment, those figures really seem to be the tip of the iceberg.
I have more recently been doing some further work with officers and staff (who are usually persuaded with the promise of cake!) working a forward rotating shift pattern in North Yorkshire. Participants had quite a lot to do over an 11-day period, which included completing a questionnaire and sleep diary, wearing an actigraphy watch (measuring sleep and wake times, and activity) and completing various iPad based reaction time tasks at the start and end of every shift. My task now is to make sense of the data I have collected. Unfortunately, that involves statistics, and is proving a bit more challenging for me!
So, the research goes on. When I have fully studied the data collected in my most recent study, and hopefully understood what it all means, then I should have a better idea of the most appropriate direction I need to follow. What I do know, however, is that I still have a long way to go and it isn’t easy trying to fit it in alongside a full time job. But I’m slowly ‘plodding’ on…
Driver fatigue: points to ponder
Driver fatigue is a serious problem, resulting in many thousands of road collisions each year. Research shows that up to 20 per cent of crashes on motorways in the UK are fatigue-related.
Sleepiness reduces reaction time, vigilance, alertness and concentration. Many drivers underestimate the risk of falling asleep while driving. Others simply choose to ignore the risk to themselves and to others, in the same way that drink-drivers do.
Young male drivers, truck drivers, drivers of company cars and shift workers are most at risk of falling asleep while driving. However, anyone driving long distances or setting off already tired is taking a big risk.
Long journeys on monotonous roads, particularly motorways, are the most likely to result in a driver falling asleep, especially in the early hours of the morning and the middle of the afternoon.
Sleep-related accidents tend to be more severe because of the higher speeds involved and because the driver is unable to take any avoiding action or even brake, before the collision.
It is not an offence to drive when tired, although a driver is more likely to commit a driving offence while tired. This could result in a serious conviction, such as causing death by dangerous driving.