Everybody knows about the dangers that alcohol and mobile phones can pose on the roads, but fatigue can be just as dangerous.
Everyone likes to think of themselves as a safe driver, but according to a new survey more than half of motorists are unwittingly posing a danger to themselves and others: by driving while feeling drowsy.
Although drowsy driving doesn’t get as much attention as drink driving, drug driving, and distracted driving (i.e. checking your emails on your smartphone while you should be paying attention to the road) it’s just as dangerous. Research has shown that people who drive after being awake for 18 hours perform at the same level as someone who is “over the limit”.
Statistics from across the pond paint a rather bleak picture. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claim that drowsy driving contributes to over 100,000 crashes, and can be blamed for 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries per year. The National Sleep Foundation offer more alarming statistics, claiming that it’s closer to 71,000 injuries and over 5,500 deaths each year.
In the UK, estimates are slightly different, but no less shocking. Professor Stephen Glaister of the RAC Foundation claims that while drowsiness is considered to be a factor in 2% of UK accidents, it’s likely that in reality the figure is ten times higher. The problem is, it’s difficult to know when drowsiness played a part in an accident.
Unlike drunk or drug driving, there’s no way for police officers to figure out whether the driver is drowsy. Drooping eyelids and yawning are symptoms that are sure to disappear when confronted by a police officer, after all.
It’s recommended that you take a rest break every two hours to keep yourself alert, but according to the Belfast Telegraph 55% of UK drivers don’t do this. It gets worse: half of the male motorists surveyed, and just under a third of the females, claim that they’ve driven for four hours or more without stopping for a rest. Even more disturbingly, 35% of drivers state that if they feel tired they just “push on.”
It’s all well and good trying to reach your destination on time, but when you think about the problems that drowsy driving can cause you may want to slow down a bit and take a break. On the tame end of the scale you could damage your vehicle, and might need to shell out for windscreen replacement. On the more extreme side of the scale, you could end up severely injured or even dead.
Thankfully there are a few easy ways to stop drowsiness in its tracks. Although nothing can beat a good night’s sleep, the following tips should help you to keep Mr Sandman at bay until you reach your destination.
Tip 1: Stop and take a half hour break once every two hours to stretch your legs, let your mind wander, and shake off that trance like state that motorways have a habit of causing.
Tip 2: Turn the air con on. Bringing fresh air into the car will get rid of stuffiness, and the colder temperature will go some way towards making you more alert.
Tip 3: Drink plenty of water. Forget about energy drinks and caffeine pills, those are likely to give you a temporary high. Keeping your body hydrated with cold, fresh, water is much more likely to help you stay on the ball.
Tip 4: Have a chat. Keep your mind alert by speaking to your passengers. If you’re alone, have a singalong with the radio.
Remember: staying safe is far more important than arriving early.
Iain Aitchison is a keen automotive blogger who blogs regularly on driving tips. He is currently compiling worth for his own blog.