Driver fatigue is a serious problem – in fact according to ROSPA, it results in thousands of road accidents every year.
“It is not possible to calculate the exact number of sleep related accidents but research shows that driver fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents, and up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents.”
So why does being tired make an accident more likely to happen?
Being sleepy or tired reduces reaction time. Obviously this is a critical factor when it comes to driving safely. It follows that tired drivers are less vigilant and not as alert as they might be which makes concentration difficult to maintain.
Crashes caused by tired drivers
ROSPA maintains “that drivers are aware when they are feeling sleepy, and so make a conscious decision about whether to continue driving or to stop for a rest. It may be that those who persist in driving underestimate the risk of actually falling asleep while driving. Or it may be that some drivers choose to ignore the risks (in the way that drink drivers do).”
In terms of fleets and company drivers, it’s helpful to analyse when accidents caused by tired or sleepy drivers are most likely to happen:
- on long journeys on monotonous roads, such as motorways
- between 2am and 6am
- between 2pm and 4pm (especially after eating, or taking even one alcoholic drink)
- after having less sleep than normal
- after drinking alcohol
- if taking medicines that cause drowsiness
- after long working hours or on journeys home after long shifts, especially night shifts
Drivers most at risk
The research that RoSPA has undertaken indicates that young male drivers, truck drivers, company car drivers and shift workers are most at risk of falling asleep while driving. It’s possible that shift workers and commercial vehicle drivers may have a higher risk of sleep-related crashes due to work-related factors and the fact that they are operating on “unnatural” patterns in terms of sleep and work.
More stats from RoSPA : Many professional drivers, especially HGV drivers report increased levels of sleepiness and are involved in a disproportionately high number of fatigue-related accidents. However, two thirds of drivers who fall asleep at the wheel are car drivers. Most (85%) of the drivers causing sleep-related crashes are men, and over one third are aged 30 or under.
How To Avoid Falling Asleep at the Wheel
The Highway Code (Rule 91) gives the following advice:-
Driving when you are tired greatly increases your accident risk. To minimise this risk
- Make sure you are fit to drive. Do not begin a journey if you are tired. Get a good night’s sleep before embarking on a long journey.
- Avoid undertaking long journeys between midnight and 6am, when natural alertness is at a minimum
- Plan your journey to take sufficient breaks. A minimum break of at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving is recommended
- If you feel sleepy, stop in a safe place. Do not stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway
- The most effective ways to counter sleepiness are to drink, for example, two cups of caffeinated coffee and to take a short nap (up to 15 minutes).
Most of the things that drivers do to try to keep themselves awake and alert when driving are ineffective, and should only be regarded as emergency measures to allow the driver time to find somewhere safe to stop. Drinking at least 150 mg of caffeine and taking a nap of around 15 minutes are the only measures that help to reduce sleepiness. But even these are temporary measures; sleepiness will return if the driver does not stop driving within a fairly short period of time.
Employers & Fleet Managers
RoSPA offers specific help and advice to employers and fleet managers:
“Driving is the most dangerous work activity that people do. It is estimated that around 150 people are killed or seriously injured every week in crashes involving someone who was driving, riding or otherwise using the road for work purposes. The majority of these tragedies can be prevented. HSE Guidelines, “Driving at Work”, state that “health and safety law applies to on-the-road work activities as to all work activities and the risks should be effectively managed within a health and safety system”. Therefore, employers must assess the risks involved in their staff’s use of the road for work and put in place all ‘reasonably practicable’ measures to manage those risks.
One of the most important things that fleet managers must do is ensure that their drivers are not at risk of falling asleep at the wheel.”
RoSPA’s free guide, “Driving for Work: Safer Journey Planner” gives advice to employers on how they can do this. You can download it and read the article from which this information was taken in full at http://www.rospa.com/roadsafety/adviceandinformation/driving/driverfatigue/factsheet.aspx