Today, the AA Charitable Trust and FIA Foundation have launched a campaign to raise awareness of “drowsy driving”, continuing to drive when you are too tired to adequately be in control of your vehicle.
And it is a real problem.
In the UK in 2017, it is believed that 53 fatal, and 351 serious crashes occurred with drowsy drivers contributing to the causes. That is one person dying each week because of drowsy drivers.
Edmund King, AA Charitable Trust director, highlights the seriousness of the issue: “One quarter of fatal crashes are sleep related so drowsiness is one of the most under-estimated risks on the roads. Tiredness is a fact of life at some point for most of us and it is crucial we know how to manage it in relation to driving.
“Crashes involving a drowsy driver tend to be catastrophic. If a driver has fallen asleep at the wheel they do not brake before an impact and make no attempt to steer away from a collision.”
Dr Katharina Lederle, sleep expert at Somnia and author of Sleep Sense, says that real sleep is the only answer: “The simple truth is the only long-term cure for sleepiness is sleep and drivers are not able to fight it off by opening the window or turning up the radio.
“Drinking caffeine and having a short nap before the caffeine effect kicks in – about 20 minutes – is a short-term solution. It can help drivers increase their alertness sufficiently to carry on driving for another hour or two. But this is no substitute for proper sleep.”
The study also points out the limited facilities for safe stopping places on the UK’s motorway network, naming several popular stretches of road that would benefit from additional service areas, but the message that needs to get through is that drivers MUST be more aware of their own capabilities, and act appropriately.
The AA states that it is “men and young drivers who are most likely to be at risk from drowsy driving”, the hazards of burning the candle at both ends, and not feeling able to admit to being tired presumably contribute to this statistic. But when the top five reasons for driving tired quoted are a long/hard day at work, the monotony of the journey, late night driving, trying to cover too much didtance in one day, and lack of sleep the night before, it is clear that we must all learn to better manage our activities.
Dr Katharina says: “There are certain times of day when the risk of driver fatigue is highest, specifically between 2am and 6am and 2pm and 4pm, when the internal body clock is promoting sleepiness.
“Of course the amount of sleep any individual has had will also affect their susceptibility to fatigue.
“Young drivers may also be more at risk as their need for sleep can be greater and lifestyle factors, such as excessive screen-time in evenings, irregular sleep patterns and consumption of stimulants can have a negative impact on sleep quality.”
Edmund King reminds us: “Simple measures can help alleviate the risks. Awareness of the problem is the first step, which is why we have launched this campaign and created an advert highlighting the dangers.
“Winding down the window, singing and turning up the radio are not remedies to tiredness – rather a symptom in themselves.
“If you feel tiredness creeping up on you when driving then stop and take a break.”
More details of the study, and some “Top Sleep Tips” from Dr Katharina can be found at the AA’s Driving tired can be fatal
More can also be found on our Tiredness Kills page.
Comment: Graham Benge
This latest tiredness campaign reflects the reality of driving today. We probably all, if we are being honest with ourselves, have driven when too tired to do so safely.
Our lives have become more pressured, we drive longer distances on our daily commutes, and many seem to be sleep deprived as experts say we need at least…. at least …. six hours a night to maintain our health. As someone who often gets less sleep than that, I have now learnt to recognise the symptoms of being too tired to drive safely.
I don’t carry on (or indeed start!) driving, I stop.
The best practical advice is to stop in a safe place as soon as you can, ideally a car park, services or garage forecourt.
If you can, grab a cup of coffee to wake you up. The coffee will typically take 20 minutes or so to be effective, so there is time to take a brief nap, a recharge of your batteries before carrying on with your journey.
However, from experience I can tell you that having a sleep on garage forecourts can create its own problems.
After a long job recently I broke my 3 hour plus return journey by stopping in the shop parking area of a petrol station. Unfortunately I slept longer than I’d intended and was woken by paramedics knocking on the windows. The garage staff had feared for my health and called an ambulance. A kind move on their part, but very embarrassing on mine.
That said, the moral of my story is better embarrassed than dead!
If you are getting drowsy stop as soon as you can and take a rest. It can be a lifesaver.