Sleeping Behind The Wheel Is A Killer

As part of its winter driving campaign RoadSafe reminds drivers that falling asleep at the wheel accounts for up to 20 per cent of crashes on motorways or similar roads, and as many as one in 10 of all crashes on Britain's roads.

Government research shows that:

  • An estimated 300 people a year are killed where a driver has fallen asleep at the wheel
  • If you fall asleep at the wheel you are 50 per cent 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 2pm-4pm.
  • People who drive as part of their job are more at risk with about 40 per cent of sleep related crashes being work-related - as they involve commercial vehicles
  • Alcohol and drugs (including some medicines) can make you more tired without you realising it
RoadSafe director Adrian Walsh stresses the importance of the research and says, 'When driving at night extra care should be taken to plan journeys and to make sure that you are not too tired"

In addition, the sleep unit at Loughborough University, which won a Prince Michael Road Safety Award in 2003, say that men aged below 30 are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel, and seem to be at a higher risk because they use the roads more at night. They are also more likely to press on with a journey when tired.

Their findings include:

  • Driving between midnight and 6am presents a particular risk for sleep-related crashes as this is when your 'body clock' is in a natural trough
  • All sleepy drivers are aware of their tiredness, particularly when they reach the stage of 'fighting sleep' (doing things to keep themselves awake, such as winding down the window)
  • Opening the window for cold air or turning up the radio are of very limited benefit and sufficient only to find a safe place for a break.
Tips for drivers
  • Plan your journey to include a 15 minute break every two hours of driving
  • Drinking two cups of coffee or other high caffeine drink and having a rest to allow time for the caffeine to kick in are effective methods of combating tiredness
  • Have a good night's sleep before setting out on a long journey.
  • Remember the risks if you have to get up unusually early to start your trip, or have a long drive home after a full day's work
  • Avoid making long trips between midnight- 6am and 2-4pm when natural alertness is low
  • Share the driving if possible
  • If you start to feel sleepy find a safe place to stop (not the hard shoulder of the motorway).
14 October 2005 Staff

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