It’s a little-know fact that tiredness can have the same impact on our driving as taking alcohol or drugs. Worryingly, 1 in 4 of us admits to regularly driving whilst tired.
Men are more likely than than women to drive tired; 28% compared to 20%. Both figures are frighteningly high and the government estimates a fifth of all road accidents are caused by tired driving. In the first six months of 2016, over 180,000 accidents and deaths were reported. That’s more than 36,000 caused by driver fatigue.
Many of us simply aren’t aware this is a major problem. We think we can keep ourselves alert, even when we feel the first nod of tiredness. Yet by then, it’s already too late – our driving is being effected.>
Here are some signs that tiredness could be taking hold;
- Difficulty focusing, excessive blinking, or heavy eyelids
- Daydreaming and trouble remembering the last few miles driven
- Missing exits or traffic signs
- Rubbing your eyes and yawning
- Trouble keeping your head up
- Drifting from your lane, hitting a rumble strip
- Restlessness, irritability and aggression
Like hunger and thirst, sleep is a powerful biological driver, and once it takes hold it’s difficult to resist. Studies have shown that drowsy driving impacts on our attention span and slows reaction times. Yet driving is a complex activity, requiring lots of small but important instant decisions. So if we’re tired, our brain slows down and is less efficient at making these decisions.
Could your job make you a tired driver?
Although tiredness can affect us all, there are some groups of drivers who are at greater risk. In some cases, this is because they drive more miles than the rest of us. Or their jobs make them naturally more prone to fatigue. These include:
- Commercial drivers who drive a high number of miles and drive at night are at significantly higher risk for fall-asleep crashes
- Inexperience and a tendency to drive more at night puts young people at risk, especially males aged 17-25 years
- People who work shifts or more than one job, are six times more likely to be involved in a drowsy driving crash
- People with untreated sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) are up to seven times more likely to have a crash
There is no easy way to overcome tiredness once it sets in. The safest thing to do is to limit the risk of becoming tired in the first place, by getting 7-8 hours of sleep before you set off. However, to help we’ve compiled a key ‘DO’ and ‘DON’T’ list that can help keep you safe behind the wheel and avoid the common mistakes that might put you in danger:
DON’T - Drive if you are already tired or on medication that may cause drowsiness
DON’T - Think that playing the radio or opening a window will keep you awake
DON’T - Drive at times when you’d usually be sleeping – between midnight and 6am
DON’T - Drink even a small amount of alcohol, especially if you are sleepy.
DO - Get a good night’s sleep before a long drive; 7-8 hours at least
DO - Get off the road if you notice the warning signs of tiredness
DO - Take a nap – find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute snooze
DO - Drink caffeine. Two cups of coffee can boost your alertness, but it can take 30 minutes to kick in
DO - Drink a strong coffee before taking a short nap to get the benefits of both
DO - Drive with a friend who can watch for signs of tiredness in the driver. You can take turns driving too.