How do prolonged wakefulness and alcohol compare in the decrements they produce on a simulated driving task?

Accid Anal Prev. 2001 May;33(3):337-44. doi: 10.1016/s0001-4575(00)00047-6.


The effects of alcohol ingestion were compared with those of prolonged wakefulness on a simulated driving task. Eighteen healthy, male subjects aged between 19 and 35 years drove for 30 min on a simulated driving task at blood alcohol concentrations of 0.00, 0.05 and 0.08%. Subjective sleepiness was assessed before and after the driving task. Driving performance was measured in terms of the mean and standard deviation (S.D.) of lane position (tracking); the mean and S.D. of speed deviation (the difference between the actual speed and the posted speed limit); and the number of off-road occurrences. Ratings of sleepiness increased with increasing blood alcohol concentration, and were higher following the driving task. With increasing blood alcohol concentration, tracking variability, speed variability, and off-road events increased, while speed deviation decreased, the result of subjects driving faster. The results were compared with a previous study examining simulated driving performance during one night of prolonged wakefulness [Arnedt, J.T., MacLean A.W., 1996. Effects of sleep loss on urban and motorway driving stimulation performance. Presented at the Drive Alert... Arrive Alive International Forum, Washington DC], using an approach adopted by Dawson and Reid [Dawson, D., Reid, K., 1997. Fatigue, alcohol and performance impairment. Nature 388, 23]. For mean tracking, tracking variability, and speed variability 18.5 and 21 h of wakefulness produced changes of the same magnitude as 0.05 and 0.08% blood alcohol concentration, respectively. Alcohol consumption produced changes in speed deviation and off-road occurrences of greater magnitude than the corresponding levels of prolonged wakefulness. While limited to situations in which there is no other traffic present, the findings suggest that impairments in simulated driving are evident even at relatively modest blood alcohol levels, and that wakefulness prolonged by as little as 3 h can produce decrements in the ability to maintain speed and road position as serious as those found at the legal limits of alcohol consumption.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / blood
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / physiopathology*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Automobile Driving*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology*