Without question driver fatigue is a continuing major problem all over the world. Thousands of people are killed, or seriously injured due to drivers falling asleep at the wheel. In the UK alone, almost 45,000 people are killed, or seriously injured in road accidents every year, and road safety experts consider driver fatigue is a major cause:
• An estimated 300 people a year are killed where a driver has fallen asleep at the wheel.
• Research commissioned by the Government found that falling asleep at the wheel accounts for up to 20% of crashes on motorways or similar roads, and as many as one in ten of all crashes on Britain’s roads.
• If you fall asleep at the wheel you are 50% more likely to die or suffer serious injury because a sleeping driver does not react before a crash.
• The greatest risk of falling asleep at the wheel is between midnight-6am and 2-4pm.
• It can affect any driver, but people who drive as part of their job may be more at risk.
• About 40% of sleep related crashes are work-related, inasmuch as they involve commercial vehicles.
• Alcohol and drugs (including some medicines) can make you more tired without you realising it.
• Driver fatigue advice and information from RoSPA.
Drivers Most at Risk
Young male drivers, truck drivers, company car drivers and shift workers are most at risk of falling asleep while driving. However, any driver travelling long distances or when they are tired, is at risk of a sleep related accident. High risk times for fatigue-related fatal crashes are:
1. Night time/early morning 10pm-6am
2. Afternoon 1pm-3pm
Fatigue-related crashes at these times of the day coincide with dips in the body’s circadian rhythms, which program us to feel sleepy at night when we would normally be asleep and to a lesser extent in the afternoon hours.
Fatal crashes identifying fatigue as a factor are more likely to occur during public and school holiday periods. Nearly 30 per cent of all fatal fatigue accidents occur during public or school holidays.
It is not a specific offence to drive when tired, however a driver is more likely to commit a driving offence whilst tired. This may be as significant as causing death by dangerous driving and there has recently been a successful conviction of a driver who fell asleep at the wheel.
The majority of accidents due to driver tiredness are caused by drivers who drive as part of their job. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1979, employers can be prosecuted if they are found guilty of failing to exercise their ‘duty of care’ towards their employees by pressuring drivers to continue when tired, setting unrealistic schedules, or allowing drivers to drive excessive hours. There has already been successful prosecutions towards directors, managers and other staff within companies.
The Highway Code gives the following advice:-
Driving when you are tired greatly increases your accident risk. To minimise this risk:
1. Make sure you are fit to drive. Do not undertake a long journey (longer than an hour) if you feel tired.
2. Avoid undertaking long journeys between midnight and 6am, when natural alertness is at a minimum
3. Plan your journey to take sufficient breaks. A minimum break of at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving in recommended.
4. If you feel sleepy, stop in a safe place. Do not stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway.
5. The most effective ways to counter sleepiness are to take a short nap (up to 15 minutes) or drink, for example, two cups of strong coffee. Fresh air, exercise or turning up the radio may help for a short time, but are not as effective.