Wake up call for drivers

AA appeals to motorists to take effective breaks on long journeys

20 August 2007

New research by the AA1 reveals that nearly two-thirds of British motorists (63%) are not taking effective breaks when travelling long distances - which could lead to fatal accidents caused by tiredness. Over 3,000 deaths and serious injuries on UK roads each year are attributed to sleep deprivation - which is as many as for drink driving2.

The AA, the UK's largest motoring organisation, is highlighting the dangers of driving for long periods, and has strongly recommended that motorists take a break at least once if they are driving for up to three hours – with additional breaks needed for journeys longer than this.

The main findings

  • Nearly a quarter (23%) of motorists only ever stop for a quick toilet break
  • One in 20 never stop at all
  • One in 10 motorists admit to nodding off at the wheel
  • 28% say they keep driving when they are tired to reach their destination

Nearly half (44%) of those surveyed also confessed that they often drive through the night, when travelling long distances. This is particularly worrying as motorists are 13 times more likely to have a tiredness-related accident when their body rhythms are at a natural low point - during the early hours of the morning (typically between two and six am).

The AA worked with sleep specialist, Professor Horne from Loughborough University, the leading Sleep Research Centre, to reveal that the 8 million drivers who use their break time to stretch their legs and get some fresh air are opting for a short term, ineffectual fix3.

Coffee and a 'power nap'

Professor Horne, Director of Loughborough University's Sleep Research Centre, said: "The best way to combat driver tiredness on long journeys is to have a strong cup of coffee4 or a functional energy drink5 followed by a 20 minute 'power nap'. It is key that drivers realise the seriousness of this issue as one in ten of all car accidents is the result of driver fatigue, and one in five on motorways6.

"On top of this, sleep-related crashes are twice as likely to result in death or serious injury because of the high impact speed and lack of avoiding action so it's incredibly important to take regular and effective breaks from driving."

Adam Ashmore, AA Patrol of the Year, said: "The majority of motorists do not regularly drive long distances, so when they do it can be tempting to skip breaks and keep driving. When planning long journeys, people should always factor in breaks and allow extra time to get to their destination."

AA Advice

The AA's key tips for staying safe and alert on the roads include:

  • Always plan journeys properly. Any journey over three hours should include a minimum15 minute break. Longer journeys need more breaks. So do drivers not used to driving long distances.
  • If you do feel tired when driving, stop as soon as possible. Don't stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway but take the next exit and find somewhere to park, or stop at the next motorway service area.
  • Remember to lock the doors of your vehicle if you are taking a nap.
  • Drink one to two cups of caffeinated coffee or a stimulation drink containing caffeine.
  • Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to take effect, so try and have a short nap of no more than 15-20 minutes. Much more than this and you might wake up feeling groggy.

Visit the AA route planner to plan your journey and factor in break stops.

Footnotes and notes to editors

1 ICM poll of 631 motorists
2 Government Road Safety Strategy 2000
3 Based on analyses of road traffic accidents since 1995 and simulated diving conditions in 12 separate studies
4 Must be 120mg of caffeinated coffee = 1-2 cups dependent on size
5 Must be a caffeinated energy drink
6 LSRC/N.Yorks police


20 August 2007