Background: Sleepiness is a direct contributor to a substantial proportion of fatal and severe road cashes. A number of technological solutions designed to detect sleepiness have been developed, but self-awareness of increasing sleepiness remains a critical component in on-road strategies for mitigating this risk. In order to take appropriate action when sleepy, drivers’ perceptions of their level of sleepiness must be accurate.

Aims: This study aimed to assess capacity to accurately identify sleepiness and self-regulate driving cessation during a validated driving simulator task. Participants: Participants comprised 26 young adult drivers (20-28 years). The drivers had open licenses but no other exclusion criteria where used.

Methods: Participants woke at 5am, and took part in a laboratory-based hazard perception driving simulation, either at mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Established physiological measures (including EEG) and subjective measures (sleepiness ratings) previously found sensitive to changes in sleepiness levels were utilised. Participants were instructed to ‘drive’ until they believed that sleepiness had impaired their ability to drive safely. They were then offered a nap opportunity.

Results: The mean duration of the drive before cessation was 39 minutes (±18 minutes). Almost all (23/26) of the participants then achieved sleep during the nap opportunity. These data suggest that the participants’ perceptions of sleepiness were specific. However, EEG data from a number of participants suggested very high levels of sleepiness prior to driving cessation, suggesting poor sensitivity.

Conclusions: Participants reported high levels of sleepiness while driving after very moderate sleep restriction. They were able to identify increasing sleepiness during the test period, could decide to cease driving and in most cases were sufficiently sleepy to achieve sleep during the daytime session. However, the levels of sleepiness achieved prior to driving cessation suggest poor accuracy in self-perception and regulation. This presents practical issues for the implementation of fatigue and sleep-related strategies to improve driver safety.