Driver Tiredness and Fatigue

When was the last time you drove somewhere, say to work, and after you arrived you could not recall the journey that you had just taken?

Driver fatigue, or tiredness, complacency and inattention are a major cause of crashes and it’s easy to see why. It’s all too easy for drivers who travel the same routes, every day or who perform the same daily tasks to ‘switch off’. We often take a journey for granted, thinking about last night’s big game, the latest episode of their favourite box set or the agenda for the day ahead. This inattention can lead to speeding, failing to see a young child stepping off the pavement or the motorcyclist approaching as you pull out from a junction. Remember, failing to look properly is THE major cause of crashes.

Our advice is firstly, think about the nature of your journey. Is it really necessary for you to use your car, for example on the school run? The morning and afternoon peak times outside of schools present the greatest danger to children. Whether this is through the high volume of traffic or cars parking illegally on zig-zag road markings. The harmful effects on childrens’ health due to air pollution from vehicle exhaust fumes is also a hazard.

Stay Alert

Secondly, if you must use your car, consider varying the route that you use. This has a number of benefits – it can keep you alert to a new environment and hazards and is also useful should there be a road closure on one of your routes.

When did you last drive after a bad night’s sleep and felt tired when getting behind the wheel?

The effects of fatigue are often compared to those of alcohol. Driving requires a driver to multi-task and employ a high level of concentration. People who are tired simply cannot perform as well as those who are rested and alert. In this state drivers become unwilling to engage in a physical and mental activity. Their judgement of their own abilities becomes impaired. For example, they believe that they can continue to the next motorway services rather than stop at the nearest one, they can make the journey into work as they do it every day.

Fatigue is the precursor to drowsiness and it is during the fatigue stage that a driver has the opportunity to act and prevent a potential crash. However, if they fail to do so, there is a high risk that they will be involved in a collision or other incident in which their life and that of others is put at risk.

Our advice to help combat driver tiredness is:

  • Incorporate a break into any journeys, particularly long ones
  • Stop and take a power nap. It’s like a ‘rapid charge’ and need only take 10 minutes
  • Change your environment. Get out of your car, take a walk, have a cup of tea or coffee.
  • Ensure that you have a good sleeping pattern and are well rested
  • Avoid the overuse of caffeine during the day and evening – it may affect the quality of your sleep
  • People are often most drowsy after lunch so pre-plan any journeys and breaks to take account of this

Finally, consider the stopping distances contained in the Highway Code (when did you last read it?). Stopping distance is divided into braking and thinking distances.

For example at 30 mph:

Braking distance – 14 metres (car with brakes in good condition, dry road)
Thinking distance – 9 metres (driver alert, concentrating, not distracted)
= stopping distance of 23 metres

However, a tired driver or one distracted by say, a hands-free phone conversation or one who was drinking or smoking might take a couple of more seconds to react and brake. In 2 seconds, driving at 30 mph, that driver will have travelled an extra 26 metres – over double the stopping distance. The result, a car crash, a badly injured pedestrian or worse.

Drivers – take your driving seriously and remember, 100% concentration – 100% of the time.