Driving requires the driver to maintain high levels of alertness even with little or no interesting stimulation. As the driving route becomes more monotonous and familiar the driver is susceptible to loss of alertness and ‘passive’ fatigue symptoms (fatigue that develops over time when there appears to be little or no interesting stimulation).
This phenomenon is not unique to driving; here is what Commander James Edgar Waldron wrote about Flying:
“While much has been written about the glories and thrills of flying, it seems to me that too little has been stated about the boredom and tedium that drags on in between these fun-filled times. Although there is a saying that flying encompasses hours and hours of boredom, interspersed with occasional moments of terror, the tedium is seldom stressed. This chapter is not about terror, but about those long hours of sitting in a cockpit, as mile after mile of repetitious scenery sailed by. It is about the little things I would do to keep my interests from sagging and my eyelids from slamming shut”.
To counteract fatigue, drivers adopt different coping behaviors while driving; behaviors that they think (or hope) will maintain their alertness. Most common behaviors include listening to the radio, opening a window, following the separation line, talking to a passenger/on the phone, and drinking coffee. In research studies some of these behaviors were not proven to be effective in maintaining alertness. Little has been done in finding technological solutions to make the driver more alert (as opposed to alert the driver of his state).
In a simulator study among professional truck drivers, we examined whether using cognitive-demanding games (such as Trivia) helps in maintaining alertness in prolonged monotonous drives. Our study showed short-term effectiveness for the ‘Trivia’ AMT particularly in comparison with driving without countermeasures. Listening to music was also more beneficial than we expected.
You can read more about: Alertness maintaining tasks (AMTs) while driving, Accident Analysis & Prevention, Volume 40, Issue 3, May 2008, Pages 851-860, Tal Oron-Gilad, Adi Ronen, David Shinar
We evaluated the effectiveness of alertness maintaining tasks (AMTs) on driver performance, subjective feelings, and psychophysiological state in monotonous simulated driving in two experiments. In the first experiment, 12 professional truck drivers participated in five sessions of simulated driving: driving only, driving with one of three AMTs (counterbalanced), and driving while listening to music. AMTs were not equally effective in maintaining alertness. The trivia AMT prevented driving performance deterioration, and increased alertness (measured by standardized HRV). The choice reaction time AMT was least demanding but also increased subjective sleepiness and reduced arousal (measured by alpha/beta ratio). The working memory AMT caused a significant decrement in driving speed, increased subjective fatigue, and was regarded by the participants as detrimental to driving. Trivia was preferred by the majority of the drivers over the other two AMTs. Experiment 2 further examined the utility of the trivia AMT. When the drivers engaged in the trivia AMT they maintained better driving performance and perceived the driving duration as shorter than the control condition. The two experiments demonstrated that AMTs can have a positive effect on alertness. The effect is localized in the sense that it does not persist beyond the period of the AMT activation.
The Figure shows the Alertness Ratio (derived from the EEG) for a single driver. The local positive effect of the Trivia-AMT on alertness is apparent.