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Research aims to reduce road crashes caused by sleepiness

A new research project is aiming to reduce road crashes caused by sleepiness through monitoring shift-workers who drive either as part of their work, or when commuting - with the data being used to estimate and predict motorists’ fatigue levels.

Man yawning while driving a car
The project will explore the risk of sleepiness when driving, particularly among shift workers

The Road Safety Trust has awarded funding to Nottingham Trent University (NTU) to carry out the three-year SleepiEST project, working alongside the National Police Wellbeing Service.

The project will result in a publicly available online fatigue management tool.

Although the research will focus on police officers and other police employees, the findings will be applicable to a wide range of shift workers, and those who drive to and from work outside normal working hours.

The project is being led by Professor John Groeger and Dr Fran Pilkington-Cheney, psychologists and sleep experts from NTU’s School of Social Sciences.

Dr Pilkington-Cheney said: “Due to various shift patterns and circadian related factors, sleepiness is prevalent within shift working populations, and has the potential to be particularly dangerous when safety critical tasks are involved.

“Our research aims to explore the risk of sleepiness when driving, both during shifts, but also before and after shifts, as commuting can often be overlooked in terms of risk.”

Professor John Groeger and Dr Fran Pilkington-Cheney explain the aims of the SleepiEST project

Data collection will occur in three phases. Firstly, the project team will conduct a large, nationwide survey of serving officers and police employees to collect information on sleep, fatigue, shift patterns and driving behaviour.

The team will then collect information from officers across several working weeks, in a two week diary study and online vigilance assessment, before combining this with other data such as on-board driving telematics, to model effects of fatigue and sleep patterns.

This integrated approach will aim to develop a publicly available online tool to enable the ‘sleepiness risk’ to be estimated.

Professor Groeger, founder of NTU’s Sleep Well Science consultancy, said: “Our approach is going to be a little different because we will gather the data, develop and test the tool, and assess whether the results are meaningful and useful, all within the same complex work setting.

“The national spread and diversity of the police workforce, officers and other employees, will enable us to incorporate the effects of a broad range of individual differences into the underlying model.”

Ruth Purdie OBE, interim chief executive of The Road Safety Trust, said: “Driver fatigue causes hundreds of collisions a year. It is a really serious issue. This project can make a significant difference for shift workers, who by the very nature of their work, are at additional risk of driving when fatigued.”

Dr Yvonne Taylor, the sleep and fatigue lead for the National Police Wellbeing Service, is also working on the project.

Dr Taylor said: “The National Police Wellbeing Service exists to provide support and guidance to all police forces, to improve and build upon wellbeing. Previous academic research, along with our own annual surveys have highlighted that sleepiness and fatigue are an issue for police officers and staff.

“There is still much to do in this area, particularly furthering knowledge around driver fatigue in this group of shift workers. Being part of the SleepiEST team will allow us to continue this vital work and ultimately improve safety and wellbeing for all those within policing.”

To find out more about the project visit The Road Safety Trust website.

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    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2021 for cultural heritage science research. It is the second time that NTU has been bestowed the honour of receiving a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its research, the first being in 2015 for leading-edge research on the safety and security of global citizens.

    The Research Excellence Framework (2021) classed 83% of NTU’s research activity as either world-leading or internationally excellent. 86% of NTU’s research impact was assessed to be either world-leading or internationally excellent.

    NTU was awarded The Times and The Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2023 and ranked University of the Year in the Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2023. It was awarded Outstanding Support for Students 2020 (Times Higher Education Awards), University of the Year 2019 (Guardian University Awards, UK Social Mobility Awards), Modern University of the Year 2018 (Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide) and University of the Year 2017 (Times Higher Education Awards).

    NTU is the 5th largest UK institution by student numbers, with approximately 40,000 students and more than 4,400 staff located across five campuses. It has an international student population of 7,000 and an NTU community representing over 160 countries.

    Since 2000, NTU has invested £570 million in tools, technology, buildings and facilities.

    NTU is in the UK’s top 10 for number of applications and ranked first for accepted offers (2021 UCAS UG acceptance data). It is also among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was the first UK university to sign the Social Mobility Pledge.

    NTU is ranked the second most sustainable university in the world in the 2022 UI Green Metric University World Rankings (out of more than 900 participating universities).

    About The Road Safety Trust

    The Road Safety Trust is dedicated to achieving zero deaths and serious injuries on UK roads.

    To achieve this, The Road Safety Trust provides funding for practical measures, research, dissemination, and education.

    We work with others to use the wealth of knowledge and understanding about what works to keep road safety high on the national and local agenda and influence policy change.

    We share new knowledge from research and practical interventions across the road safety and wider community to raise awareness and encourage implementation.

    For more information visit:

Published on 16 August 2023
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Social Sciences