Richard Gladman, head of driving and riding standards, shares some tips on how to avoid the dangers of falling asleep at the wheel.
Extreme tiredness can lead to micro-sleeps. This is a short episode of drowsiness or sleep that could last a fraction of a second or up to 30 seconds. A car driving at 70 mph will travel 31 meters per second, giving plenty of time to cause a serious crash during a micro sleep.
The effects of losing one or two hours of sleep a night on a regular basis can lead to chronic sleepiness over time. So ensure you are well rested and feeling fit and healthy before you set off.
Make sure you take regular rest breaks to split up the journey when driving on a long, boring stretch of a motorway. It’s good practise to stop at least every two hours and it’s essential to take a break before the drowsiness sets in.
If necessary, plan an overnight stop. If you feel too fatigued to carry on driving, then book yourself into a hotel at the next service station and sleep it off. Wake up fresh with a good breakfast, and carry on your journey. It’s good to note that a caffeine high may be a quick fix, but it is not a long term solution and certainly no substitute for proper sleep.
You’re bound to be tired after a full day at work, so avoid setting out on a long drive after you have finished for the day. It’s best to start your journey earlier on, and when you’re more alert.
If possible, avoid driving between the two peak times for sleepiness. These are between 3am and 5am and also between 2pm and 4pm.
If you have taken prescribed medication, then seek advice from your GP as to whether you should be driving or not. If bought over the counter, then read the instructions on the pack or speak to a pharmacist.
Richard says: “Even the fittest of us need regular sleep to perform at our highest standards. Driving requires full concentration at all times and if you are tired, your ability to concentrate is reduced. Our internal body clock (circadian rhythm) is usually set to deal with our normal lifestyle, extra care needs to be taken when driving during a time we would normally be at rest. Stop, rehydrate and rest if you need to.”