The Case for Driving Hydration – Hypothesis

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The Case for Driving Hydration – Hypothesis

Extensive research has been done on the life-saving importance of proper hydration. Over the years many studies have focused on the physiological necessity of water in our lives, its role in our health and development, and the part it plays in the world around us; but far less research has been done on how it affects our abilities to perform certain tasks – until recently that is.

In 2015 Loughborough University, funded in part by a grant from the European Hydration Institute, began a ground-breaking study on the effects of dehydration on one’s driving ability – specifically the impact of mild hypohydration (dehydration) on performance during a prolonged monotonous driving task. The results were startling and the impact of those results is far-reaching for transport managers and directors who constantly strive to reduce vehicle incidents related to ‘driver error’.

In this, the first of a three-part blog series, we provide an in-depth look at the Loughborough study: the starting-point context and hypothesis; the methodology implemented; and the results achieved – all of which underpin the absolute necessity of the Driving Hydration solution.

An individual’s total body water (TBW) fluctuates throughout the day. There are many factors that can either increase fluid losses – illness, heat and humidity and/or diuretics – or limit one’s intake of fluids – availability of beverages and/or toilets. When either (or both) these factors come into play, hypohydration is the result – those particularly at risk are babies, young children and the elderly.

Symptoms of mild hypohydration are headaches, feelings of weakness, dizziness and fatigue – generally one feels lethargic, less alert and less able to concentrate properly. Tests show that fluid loss impairs both physical and mental performance.

As little as a 2% reduction in water body mass due to insufficient hydration can also result in impaired cognitive function, with changes in mood state and modest reductions in concentration, alertness and short-term memory   reported.

While data specifically related to the hydration practices of drivers is scarce; other studies done across various workplace settings show that many employees begin their work day already dehydrated and end their work day even more so, particularly if their access to beverages and bathroom facilities were restricted. And these restrictions are most commonly in play for those that drive for a living.

According to the Department for Transport around 22 000 people are seriously injured each year in road traffic accidents in the UK, with driver error attributed to 68% of all vehicle crashes.

In addition to not paying proper attention, misjudging the speed and path of other cars on the road, and driver distraction; most drivers during long and monotonous driving also begin to show signs of visual fatigue and loss of vigilance. As hypohydration alters mood and cognitive function, ‘it is reasonable to assume that dehydrated drivers may be more susceptible to errors in judgement and/or the successful execution of motor skill.’

With this in mind, the aim of the present study was an initial exploration of the effects of mild hypohydration, on performance during a prolonged, monotonous driving task where aspects of cognition relevant to driving are likely to be challenged.

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