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Why the hours of service are important: a graph outlining the relationship between number of hours driven and the percent of crashes related to driver fatigue.
Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration[1]

Fatigue is a major safety concern in many fields, but especially in transportation, because fatigue can result in disastrous accidents. Fatigue is considered an internal precondition for unsafe acts because it negatively affects the human operator's internal state. Research has generally focused on pilots, truck drivers, and shift workers.

Fatigue can be a symptom of a medical problem, but more commonly it is a normal physiological reaction to exertion, lack of sleep, boredom, changes to sleep-wake schedules (including jet lag), or stress.[citation needed]

In some cases, driving after 18–24 hours without sleep is equivalent to a BAC of between 0.05% to 0.10%.[2]



Fatigue can be both physical and mental. Physical fatigue is the inability to continue functioning at the level of one's normal abilities; a person with physical fatigue cannot lift as heavy a box or walk as far as he could if not fatigued.[3][4][5]

Mental fatigue, on the other hand, rather manifests in sleepiness or slowness. A person with mental fatigue may fall asleep, may react very slowly, or may be inattentive. With microsleeps, the person may be unaware that he was asleep. Without proper amount of sleep, it will feel like certain tasks seem complicated, concentration will drop and ultimately result in fatal mistakes[6]


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration identifies three main factors in driver fatigue: Circadian rhythm effects, sleep deprivation and cumulative fatigue effects, and industrial or "time-on-task" fatigue.

  • Circadian rhythm effects describe the tendency for humans to experience a normal cycle in attentiveness and sleepiness through the 24-hour day. Those with a conventional sleep pattern (sleeping for seven or eight hours at night) experience periods of maximum fatigue in the early hours of the morning and a lesser period in the early afternoon. During the low points of this cycle, one experiences reduced attentiveness. During the high points, it is difficult to sleep soundly. The cycle is anchored in part by ambient lighting (darkness causes a person's body to release the hormone melatonin, which induces sleep),[7] and by a person's imposed pattern of regular sleeping and waking times. The influence of the day-night cycle is never fully displaced (artificial lighting is not strong enough to inhibit the release of melatonin),[8] and the performance of night shift workers usually suffers. Circadian rhythms are persistent, and can only be shifted by one to two hours forward or backward per day. Changing the starting time of a work shift by more than these amounts will reduce attentiveness, which is common after the first night shift following a "weekend" break during which conventional sleep times were followed.[1] The effects of sleep deprivation vary substantially from person to person.[9][10]
  • Sleep deprivation and cumulative fatigue effects describe how individuals who fail to have an adequate period of sleep (7–8 hours in 24 hours) or who have been awake longer than the conventional 16–17 hours will suffer sleep deprivation. A sleep deficit accumulates with successive sleep-deprived days, and additional fatigue may be caused by breaking daily sleep into two shorter periods in place of a single unbroken period of sleep. A sleep deficit is not instantly reduced by one night's sleep; it may take two or three conventional sleep cycles for an individual to return to unimpaired performance.[1]
  • Industrial or "time-on-task" fatigue describes fatigue that is accumulated during the working period, and affects performance at different times during the shift. Performance declines the longer a person is engaged in a task, gradually during the first few hours and more steeply toward the end of a long period at work. Reduced performance has also been observed in the first hour of work as an individual adjusts to the working environment.[1]

In addition to the primary factors identified by the FAA, other potential contributors to fatigue during transportation have been identified. These include endogenous factors such as mental stress and age of the vehicle operator, as well as exogenous or environmental stressors, such as the presence of non sea-level cabin pressure in-flight, vehicle noise, and vehicle vibration/acceleration (which contributes to the sopite syndrome). Many of the exogenous contributors merit further study because they are present during transportation operations but not in most lab studies of fatigue.

In aviationEdit

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that codifies standards and regulations for international air-navigation defines fatigue as: "A physiological state of reduced mental or physical performance capability resulting from sleep loss or extended wakefulness, circadian phase, or workload (mental and/or physical activity) that can impair a crew member’s alertness and ability to safely operate an aircraft or perform safety related duties." [11]

Human factors are the primary causal factor aviation accidents.[12] In 1999, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives that pilot fatigue impacts aviation safety with "unknown magnitude". The report cited evidence of fatigue issues in areas including aviation operations, laboratory studies, high-fidelity simulations, and surveys. The report indicates that studies consistently show that fatigue is an ongoing problem in aviation safety.[13] In 2009, Aerospace Medical Association listed long duty work hours, insufficient sleep, and circadian disruptions as few of the largest contributing factors to pilot fatigue.[14] Fatigue can result in pilot error, slowed responses, missed opportunities, and incorrect responses to emergency situations.

A November 2007 report by the National Transportation Safety Board indicates that air crew fatigue is a much larger, and more widespread, problem than previously reported.[15] The report indicates that since 1993 there have been 10 major airline crashes caused by aircrew fatigue,[16][17] resulting in 260 fatalities. Additionally, a voluntary anonymous reporting system known as ASAP, Aviation Safety Action Program,[18] reveals widespread concern among aviation professionals about the safety implications of fatigue. The NTSB published that FAA's response to fatigue is unacceptable and listed the issue among its "Most Wanted" safety issues.[19]

Between 2010 and 2012, more than 6.000 European pilots have been asked to self-assess the level of fatigue they are experiencing. These surveys revealed striking results. Well over 50% of the surveyed pilots experience fatigue as impairing their ability to perform well while on flight duty. The polls show that e.g. 92% of the pilots in Germany report they have felt too tired or unfit for duty while on flight deck at least once in the past three years.

Yet, fearing disciplinary actions or stigmatization by the employer or colleagues, 70-80% of fatigued pilots would not file a fatigue report or declare to be unfit to fly. Only 20-30% will report unfit for duty or file a report under such an occurrence.[20]

Fatigue in aviation accidentsEdit

Safety experts estimate that pilot fatigue contributes to 15-20% of fatal aviation accidents caused by human error. They also establish that probability of a human factor accident increases with the time pilots are on duty, especially for duty periods of 13 hours and above (see following statements):

"It is estimated (e.g. by the NTSB) that fatigue contributes to 20-30% of transport accidents (i.e. air, sea, road, rail). Since, in commercial aviation operations, about 70% of fatal accidents are related to human error, it can be assumed that the risk of the fatigue of the operating crew contributes about 15-20% to the overall accident rate. The same view of fatigue as a major risk factor is shared by leading scientists in the area, as documented in several consensus statements." [21]

"For 10-12 hours of duty time the proportion of accident pilots with this length of duty period is 1.7 times as large as for all pilots. For pilots with 13 or more hours of duty, the proportion of accident pilot duty periods is over five and a half times as high. [...] 20% of human factor accidents occurred to pilots who had been on duty for 10 or more hours, but only 10% of pilot duty hours occurred during that time. Similarly, 5% of human factor accidents occurred to pilots who had been on duty for 13 or more hours, where only 1% of pilot duty hours occur during that time. There is a discernible pattern of increased probability of an accident the greater the hours of duty time for pilots." See.[22] Federal Aviation Administration, Office of Aviation Policy and Plans, Washington, DC 20591, USA, March 2003.

Examples of pilot fatigue endangering the safety of passengers are the serious incident in Iceland (in 2007), the Colgan Air accident in the US in 2009 (50 people killed – see America Acts on Pilot Fatigue) and the Air India crash in 2010 (158 dead).

An undisclosed judicial inquiry report, obtained in 2013 by the French news magazine Le Point cites pilot fatigue as contributing factor to the Air France Flight 447 accident. The AF 447 crash happened on 1 June 2009 during a night flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris-Charles de Gaulle and cost the lives of all 228 people on board of the aircraft. The accident had previously been investigated by the French Accident Investigation Body BEA, whose report does not differ much from the judicial inquiry report, except for the conclusions on

Fatigue has also been quoted in an official accident investigation report, published on 1 March 2013. This report identifies pilot fatigue as a probable contributor to the Afriqiyah Airways Flight 771 accident in 2010. During a night flight from Johannesburg (South Africa) to Tripoli (Libya) the plane with 93 passengers and 11 crew members on board crashed during a go-around at Tripoli airport. Sixty-one Dutch nationals were among those killed. Only one passenger, 9-year-old Dutch boy, survived the crash.

In military aviationEdit

In early 2007, the 201 Airlift Squadron of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (ANG), successfully integrated the Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool FAST into its daily scheduling operations. This integration required the full-time attention of two pilot schedulers, but yielded valuable risk mitigation data that could be used by planners and leaders to predict and adjust critical times of fatigue in the flight schedule.[23] In August 2007, the Air National Guard Aviation Safety Division, under the direction of Lt Col Edward Vaughan, funded a project to improve the user interface of FAST, permitting daily use by pilot schedulers and integration with automated flight scheduling software. This improved, user-responsive interface, known as Flyawake (, was conceived and managed by Captain Lynn Lee and developed by Macrosystems. The project cited empirical data collected in combat and non-combat aviation operations, and challenged the U.S. government's established policies regarding fatigue as a factor in degrading human performance.[24]

Remedies to fatigue in aviationEdit

Pilots often have to rely on self-assessment in order to decide if they are fit to fly. The IMSAFE checklist is an example of self-assessment. Another measure that a pilot can employ to more accurately determine his level of fatigue is the Samn- Perelli Seven Point Fatigue Scale (SPS). The evaluation has a scale of 1-7, 1 described as “Fully, Alert and Wide Awake” while 7 “Completely exhausted, unable to function effectively”.[11] All levels in between have descriptions aiding the pilot with his decision. Another example of self-assessment is simply a visual and analogue scale. The test is represented by a line with No Fatigue and Fatigue labeled on two ends. The pilot will then draw a mark where he feels to be. Advantages of self-assessment include that they are quick and easy to administer, can be added to routine checklists and being more descriptive allow pilot to make a better decision. Disadvantages include that it is easy for the pilot to cheat and are often hard to disprove.[11]

Among driversEdit

Many countries regulate working hours for truck drivers to reduce accidents caused by driver fatigue. The number of hours spent driving has a strong correlation to the number of fatigue-related accidents. According to numerous studies, the risk of fatigue is greatest between the hours of midnight and six in the morning, and increases with the total length of the driver's trip.[25]

Among doctorsEdit

Fatigue among doctors is a recognized problem. It can impair performance, causing harm to patients. A study using anonymous surveys completed by junior doctors in New Zealand found that 30% of respondents scored as "excessively sleepy" on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale and 42% could recall a fatigue related clinical error in the past 6 months[26]

On shipsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "Regulatory Impact and Small Business Analysis for Hours of Service Options". Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Archived from the original on 2008-01-26. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  2. ^ "CDC Features - Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel". Retrieved 2015-10-13. 
  3. ^ Gandevia SC (1992). "Some central and peripheral factors affecting human motoneuronal output in neuromuscular fatigue". Sports Medicine. 13 (2): 93–8. doi:10.2165/00007256-199213020-00004. PMID 1561512. 
  4. ^ Hagberg M (1981). "Muscular endurance and surface electromyogram in isometric and dynamic exercise". Journal of Applied Physiology. 51 (1): 1–7. PMID 7263402. 
  5. ^ Hawley JA, Reilly T (1997). "Fatigue revisited". Journal of sports sciences. 15 (3): 245–6. doi:10.1080/026404197367245. PMID 9232549. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Melatonin". University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  8. ^ Czeisler, Charles A. "Pathophysiology and Treatment of Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders". Insomnia and Beyond: The Neurochemical Basis for Targeted Sleep Therapeutics. Medscape. Retrieved 2008-04-24.  External link in |work= (help)
  9. ^ Van Dongen HP, Caldwell JA, Caldwell JL (May 2006). "Investigating systematic individual differences in sleep-deprived performance on a high-fidelity flight simulator". Behav Res Methods. 38 (2): 333–43. doi:10.3758/BF03192785. PMID 16956110. 
  10. ^ Van Dongen HP (2006). "Shift work and inter-individual differences in sleep and sleepiness". Chronobiol. Int. 23 (6): 1139–47. doi:10.1080/07420520601100971. PMID 17190701. 
  11. ^ a b c
  12. ^ Wickens, C. D.; Lee, J. D.; Gordon, S. E.; Liu, Y. (2003). An introduction to human factors engineering. New York: Longman. 
  13. ^ NASA report to Congress on fatigue,
  14. ^ Caldwell, J.A., Mallis, M.M., Caldwell, J.L., Paul, M.A., Miller, J.C., & Neri,mD.F. Fatigue Countermeasures in Aviation. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 80(1), 29-59.
  15. ^ USA Today coverage of NTSB report,
  16. ^ Fatigue and Aviation Safety
  17. ^ Events which include fatigue as a contributory factor on SKYbrary
  18. ^ FAA's ASAP Program,
  19. ^ NTSB Most Wanted List, fatigue,
  20. ^ Barometer on pilot fatigue
  21. ^ Akerstedt, T., Mollard, R., Samel, A., Simons, M., Spencer, M. : The role of EU FTL [flight-time limitations legislation in reducing cumulative fatigue in civil aviation
  22. ^ Goode, J. H. Are pilots at risk of accidents due to fatigue?
  23. ^ "Faigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool (FAST) Phase II SBIR Final Report, Part 1". 
  24. ^ Archived 2006-10-20 at the Wayback Machine.
  25. ^ "Hours of Service of Drivers; Driver Rest and Sleep for Safe Operations; Proposed Rule". Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Archived from the original on 2006-10-01. Retrieved 2008-02-16. 
  26. ^ Gander, P.; Purnell, H.; Garden, A.; Woodward, A. (2007). "Work patterns and fatigue-related risk among junior doctors". Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 64 (11): 733–738. doi:10.1136/oem.2006.030916. PMC 2078416 . PMID 17387138. 


Akerstedt, T., Mollard, R., Samel, A., Simons, M., Spencer, M. (PDF)

J. H. Are pilots at risk of accidents due to fatigue? (PDF)

  1. ^ Wiener, Earl L.; Nagel, David C. (1988-01-01). Human Factors in Aviation. Gulf Professional Publishing. ISBN 9780127500317.