Don't drive tired

Fatigue is a factor in up to 10% of accidents - don't start a long journey if you're tired

Fatigue is a factor in many accidents - particularly on motorways

Fatigue is a factor in many accidents - particularly on motorways

If you drive a lot for work, spend the week working away from home, or drive having flown back from a trip abroad, you may be more susceptible to being involved in a sleep-related accident.

The dangers posed by drunk, drugged and ill drivers are well understood, but tired drivers, though often ignored as a risk, are every bit as dangerous.

The traditional image is of someone driving late at night, possibly on the way to or from a holiday, but these days tiredness is often an issue with people driving for work – more often because of hours driven rather than the time of day.

If you spend the week working away from home or have flown back from abroad you might also be susceptible to sleep related accidents.

The police record fatigue as a factor in only 3% of injury accidents, but other studies put the number at up to 10% for car drivers in accidents, and even higher for accidents on motorways and long distance routes.

If you are driving a long distance:

  • Don't drive for more than 8 hours in a day.
  • Take regular fifteen minutes breaks in journeys over three hours. Aim to stop every two hours or so. This is more important if you're not used to driving long distances.
  • If you feel at all sleepy, stop in a safe place, remembering both personal and traffic risk. Do not stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway.
  • The most effective ways to counter sleepiness are to drink two cups of caffeinated coffee and to take a short nap of at least 15 minutes. Check for parking restrictions before you do so as we've heard of drivers waking up to discover the car has been clamped.
  • Plan journeys so that breaks can be taken, allowing for an overnight stay if necessary. Under normal circumstances the law prevents even experienced HGV drivers from driving for more than 9 hours in a day or working for over 13 hours in a day. Most car drivers are nowhere near as used to driving for this long and shouldn't try.
  • If you're a business driver, bear in mind that a meeting can be as tiring as driving there and back.
  • Don't start a long journey if you are tired.
  • Heavy meals can make you sleepy, and there is additional risk when driving at times when you would normally be asleep, particularly the early morning.
  • Exercise such as strenuous walking in the hills before driving home, can also have a bad effect - especially for older people.

Driving for work

As a company driver you can feel pressured into breaking guidelines to meet deadlines.

Check whether your employer has a written road safety policy. Most will have one which should lay down rules to help prevent fatigue-related accidents.

Not all companies are good at communicating to their staff that they have a policy though.

(8 December 2011)