The effects of sleep loss on young drivers' performance: A systematic review

PLoS One. 2017 Aug 31;12(8):e0184002. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184002. eCollection 2017.


Young drivers (18-24 years) are over-represented in sleep-related crashes (comprising one in five fatal crashes in developed countries) primarily due to decreased sleep opportunity, lower tolerance for sleep loss, and ongoing maturation of brain areas associated with driving-related decision making. Impaired driving performance is the proximal reason for most car crashes. There is still a limited body of evidence examining the effects of sleep loss on young drivers' performance, with discrepancies in the methodologies used, and in the definition of outcomes. This study aimed to identify the direction and magnitude of the effects of sleep loss on young drivers' performance, and to appraise the quality of current evidence via a systematic review. Based on the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta- Analyses (PRISMA) approach, 16 eligible studies were selected for review, and their findings summarised. Next, critical elements of these studies were identified, and the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) guidelines augmented to rate those elements. Using those criteria, the quality of individual papers was calculated and the overall body of evidence for each driving outcome were assigned a quality ranking (from 'very low' to 'high-quality'). Two metrics, the standard deviation of lateral position and number of line crossings, were commonly reported outcomes (although in an overall 'low-quality' body of evidence), with significant impairments after sleep loss identified in 50% of studies. While speed-related outcomes and crash events (also with very low- quality evidence) both increased under chronic sleep loss, discrepant findings were reported under conditions of acute total sleep deprivation. It is crucial to obtain more reliable data about the effects of sleep loss on young drivers' performance by using higher quality experimental designs, adopting common protocols, and the use of consistent metrics and reporting of findings based on GRADE criteria and the PRISMA statement. Key words: Young drivers, sleep loss, driving performance, PRISMA, the GRADE, systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / psychology*
  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data
  • Adolescent
  • Automobile Driving / psychology*
  • Bibliometrics
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Grant support

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.