Driver fatigue is responsible for thousands of road accidents every year in the UK. DVLA figures show that drowsiness at the wheel contributes to 20% of all accidents and a quarter of all fatal and serious incidents. And with societies active 24/7, combined with shift patterns, commuting further for work and managing other societal pressures, it’s important to recognise the dangers of driving tired, and what we can do to minimise these risks.
What’s a little fatigue?
Drowsiness may not sound that serious. And perhaps you, like many, find it difficult to recognise when you are ‘too tired’ to drive? But tiredness is more damaging than you might think. Feeling drowsy and suffering a dip in your concentration levels means delayed reactions and impaired
decision making abilities.
In some ways, driving tired can be similar to driving drunk, and after years of public campaigning, we all understand the serious implications of driving under the influence of alcohol. Driving tired is however harder to detect. But no less deadly. Most crashes taking place as a result of driver fatigue happen at high speed because drivers do not have the ability to brake or steer out of the crash.
What can we look out for?
There are a few common factors to look out for when getting behind the wheel. Driving tired can be caused by a number of factors:
- Lack of sleep or disturbed sleep (work stress, shift work, insomnia, new baby etc.)
- Peak times of the day (it is recognised that accidents due to fatigue happen most often during the periods of 2am – 6am, and 2pm – 4pm, when the body naturally has a dip in energy);
- Long drives (after 2 hours of continuous driving, driving standards deteriorate as your body becomes slower to react and less able to concentrate);
- Stress (tiredness is a natural result of stress);
- Modern engineering (cars are becoming more comfortable to drive, less noisy, using better suspension, automated, and include driver assisting tools such as cruise control and automatic braking);
- Motorway (driving on motorways or similar roads can be monotonous and lead to drowsiness due to a lack of driver stimulation and a continually fixed speed);
- Pre-existing medical conditions (for example sleep apnoea, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Motor Neurone Disease etc.);
- Medication (many common over the counter medications have drowsiness as side effects)
- Drinking alcohol (consuming any alcohol impacts driver response time enormously and can also result in drowsiness, especially when consumed in the afternoon).
Steps to avoid driving tired
We should all be aware of a few simple methods to avoid driving drowsy:
- Rest: Try and plan to get more rest in particular before long commutes or journeys. If you know you’re going to be on the road for several hours, plan the night before to minimise socialising, and bank more sleep;
- Break: Think about your journeys and build in a break roughly every two hours. Even if just for 10/15 minutes to stretch your legs, it could make all the difference;
- Air: If you feel you’re getting tired and can’t stop safely, wind down your windows and give yourself some air;
- Timing: Minimise driving through the ‘high risk’ periods in particular in the very early morning;
- Share: Try and commute-share or take shifts when driving on long journeys to allow each other to rest;
- Admit: Recognise when you’re tired. Notice the signs of fatigue (yawning, heavy eyes, difficulty concentrating, neck muscles relaxing) and give yourself the chance to take a break as soon as you see them.