Driver Fatigue

Often drivers fall asleep without warning, and drivers who do fall asleep at the wheel have often tried to fight of drowsiness by opening a window, or by turning up the radio. This doesn’t work for long.

Here are some facts:

  • Research suggests that almost 20% of accidents on major roads are sleep-related.
  • Sleep-related accidents are more likely than others to result in a fatality or serious injury.
  • Peak times for accidents are in the early hours and after lunch.

How can I avoid this:

  • Plan your journey to include a 15-minute break every two hours.
  • Don’t start a long trip if you’re already tired.
  • Remember the risks if you have to get up unusually early to start a long drive.
  • Try to avoid long trips between midnight and 6 am when you’re likely to feel sleepy anyway.
  • If you start to feel sleepy, find a safe place to stop – not the hard shoulder of a motorway. Drink two cups of coffee, or a high-caffeine drink and have a rest for 10 to 15 minutes to allow time for the caffeine to kick in.
  • Remember, the only real cure of sleepiness is proper sleep.
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Driver fatigue in more detail

  • Your body is naturally tired between the hours of 2 am and 7 am, and between 2 pm and 4 pm, with major peaks in risk at 3 am and 3 pm. Your chances of having a fatigue-related crash increase by six times when driving between the hours of midnight and 6 am.
  • If you drive after being awake for 18 hours, your driving in comparable to that of a drink driver.
  • Your fatigue-related risk strongly increases when you’ve been driving for more than two hours.
  • Fatigue sets in more quickly on some roads than on others. Motorways, for example, tend to be monotonous, with little visual stimulation to keep you alert. Roads such as these tend to make you feel tired.


How does fatigue affect my driving performance?

  • affects your ability to scan for hazards
  • impairs your judgment of speed
  • makes it harder for you to maintain a straight path.

It can also have an impact on your reaction time; if a hazard unfolds suddenly, you’re poorly equipped to react and avoid a collision.

It isn’t clear whether this kind of impairment is due to a driver being so tired that they lack the motivation to drive safely, or whether they fail to monitor their driving performance as they grow more tired.

The effects of fatigue can strike quickly, particularly among drivers with underlying health issues or lifestyle factors that increase their likelihood of becoming fatigued. Many medications can increase drowsiness. Additionally, health problems such as sleep apnoea can cause fatigue. Sleep apnoea is when, driving sleep, your breathing stops for short periods of time, affecting the quality of your sleep. This can lead to ‘microsleeps’ during the day, or when you’re supposed to be awake. A microsleep is when you actually fall asleep for a moment, often without even realising it. As with mobile phone use, fatigue can be used to determine driver negligence in the event of an accident, and it can result in a criminal convection.


How can I reduce my risk having a fatigue-related crash?

The increase in risk brought about by driving when you’re tired means that it’s vital to make sure you’re well rested before a long journey. You should also plan regular rest breaks.

Stop and rest when you’re tired, the quality of your driving can degrade to such an extent that the only way to deal with it is to stop and it’s safe and legal to do so. If you’re on a motorway, pull in at the nearest service area or leave at the next junction. The only time you’re allowed to stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway is in an emergency, so you MUST NOT stop there to rest.

If it isn’t possible to stop immediately, open a window for fresh air. Then stop as soon as it’s safe and legal to do so.

Caffeine is one of the more effective ways to counter sleepiness, have a coffee and a nap. The combination of a caffeinated drink and short nap of say 15 minutes is particularly effective. Caffeine takes 20-30 minutes to act on the brain, giving you the opportunity for a nap. However, this shouldn’t be used as a regular solution to your sleepiness.

  • Get plenty of sleep (at least six hours) the night before driving, especially if it’s a long trip.
  • Share the driving with someone else if you can.
  • Travel at times when you’re normally awake.
  • Stop driving if you become sleepy.
  • Stay overnight in a hotel rather than drive while tired.
  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles.
  • Avoid working all day and then driving a long distance.
  • Find a safe place to take a short nap.
  • Travel with a passenger who’s awake and alert.

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