If you fall asleep at the wheel you risk killing yourself, your passengers and other innocent victims.
Tiredness reduces reaction time, alertness, concentration, decision making and all crucial driving skills.
Tired drivers are much more likely to have an accident and the crash is likely to be severe because a drowsy or sleeping driver does not usually brake or swerve before the impact.
An estimated 300 people a year are killed and many more are seriously injured where a driver has fallen asleep at the wheel.
These accidents 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 drinking even one alcoholic drink).
- After having less sleep than normal.
- After drinking alcohol.
- If the driver is taking medicines that cause drowsiness.
- On journeys home after night shifts.
How to avoid driver fatigue
- Plan your journey
A planned journey reduces the risk of drowsiness and falling asleep at the wheel and is more efficient, saving you time, stress and money. Write out a route plan that can be easily read. Check for roadworks or likely traffic jams and, if possible, plan an alternative route to avoid any major delays. Plan where to stop for regular rest breaks which you should take every two hours (or sooner if feeling tired) for at least 15 to 20 minutes.
- Choose your mode of travel
If possible, make long journeys by train, bus, coach or air as these are safer, mile for mile, than road travel.
- Plan the time of day to travel
Consider how long the journey will take including time for rest breaks and unexpected delays. Avoid driving in the early hours of the morning, when you have had less sleep than normal, or in mid afternoon after eating a large meal – these are peak times for sleep related accidents.
- Consider making an overnight stop
Consider breaking up your journey with an overnight stop. If you are catching an early flight or returning from abroad, make it part of your holiday.
- Share the driving
If possible, share the driving with a second driver to allow yourself breaks.
- Make sure you've had enough sleep
Try not to stay up late or reduce your normal sleep before a long journey.
- Don't drink and drive
Alcohol stays in the body for several hours and will make you more sleepy, so avoid having even one drink before driving.
- Check any medication
If you are taking any medication, check whether it causes drowsiness. If it does, ask your doctor or pharmacist if there is an alternative medicine you could take to be safe to drive.
- Inspect your vehicle
Make sure everything's working properly, especially the tyres, lights, windscreen wipers and that all fluid levels are topped up.
If you begin to feel tired
Drivers do not fall asleep without experiencing symptoms of tiredness first. If you start to feel drowsy while driving you are more likely to crash. Many drivers try to stay awake by turning up the air conditioning, winding down the window, listening to the radio, talking or singing.
However, these will only work for a few minutes, so just employ these tactics while you find somewhere safe to stop, rather than relying on them to get you home. They will not stop you falling asleep.
- Do find somewhere safe to stop. If you're on the motorway don't stop on the hard shoulder, but take the next exit and find somewhere to park or stop at the nearest motorway service area.
- Do drink one or two cups of strong coffee or other high caffeine drinks. These will help, but take about 30 minutes to revive you.
- Do take a nap of about 15 minutes to revive yourself and allow time for the caffeine to enter your system.
- Do plan to stop for a 15 minute break every two hours on a long journey.
- Do try to get a good night's sleep before starting a long drive.
- Do share the driving if possible.
- Do remember: sleep is the only cure for tiredness so if necessary find somewhere safe to stay overnight.
- Don't try to complete the journey if you are feeling really tired (you might never arrive).
- Don't start a long trip if you're already tired.
- Don't drive for long distances after a full day's work.
- Don't drive after you have been drinking. Even just one at lunchtime will make you feel sleepy.
- Don't drive if you are taking medication that makes you feel tired (read the instructions carefully).
- Don't attempt long trips between midnight and 6am when natural alertness is low.