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Driver Fatigue: The Facts

By Amanda | 29-10-2015

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.

Driver Fatigue: The Facts

At what cost?

Driving is the most dangerous work activity that most 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. 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. . About 40% of sleep-related accidents involve commercial vehicles. Feeling tired when driving can affect the driver’s ability to concentrate on the road ahead and responsive reactions to road hazards can be badly impaired. Research confirms that drivers who fall asleep at the wheel are conscious of feeling sleepy and continue to ‘fight’ sleep for some time before an incident. A driver who has momentarily fallen asleep at the wheel for just 30 seconds at 70mph would have travelled a considerable distance, resulting in a potentially catastrophic incident

When are drivers at risk?

Accidents caused by tired 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 drinking 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
  • Boredom (particularly on long monotonous and featureless roads)

Which drivers are most at risk?

Young male drivers, truck drivers, company car drivers and shift workers are most at risk of falling asleep while driving. 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.

Anyone who suffers from a sleep disorder that prevents them from getting sufficient sleep is likely to be excessively tired during their waking hours, and so to be at higher risk of falling asleep when driving.

How can drivers reduce the 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
  • Avoid driving when ill or taking medication which contra-indicates driving or using machinery.
  • If necessary, plan an overnight stop
  • Avoid setting out on a long drive after having worked a full day
  • Avoid driving in the small hours (between 2am and 6am)
  • Be extra careful when driving between 2pm and 4pm (especially after having eaten a meal or drunk any alcohol)
  • If you feel sleepy, stop in a safe place. Do not stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway, drink two cups of caffeinated coffee and to take a short nap (up to 15 minutes).

How can employers help?

Employers have a responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act,to effectively assess the risks involved in their employees’ use of the road for work and put in place all “reasonably practicable” measures to manage those risks.

Employers should:

  • Raise awareness of driver fatigue and incorporate into driver training
  • Consider alternatives such as train and video conferencing
  • Consider that some staff may have young children or sick relatives
  • Arrange shifts, in particular when shift patterns may give rise to a potential problem and include commuting to and from the workplace
  • Give consideration to allow drivers to stay overnight away from home, while acknowledging that some drivers may want to return home
  • Actively monitor fatigue in the workplace. Journey planning should be monitored and drivers consulted during the planning process

Remember: tiredness kills, don’t fight it, stop in a safe place and take a break.


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