Driving tired can be dangerous

Driver fatigue causes hundreds of road accidents each year. And these accidents are roughly 50% more likely1 to result in death or serious injury. When drivers fall asleep, the police find no signs of braking, or any avoiding actions, so they tend to result in higher-speed collisions.

We all know we shouldn’t drive when we’re too tired, but sometimes weather, logistics, lack of alternatives or time constraints2 mean we do anyway. However, driving while fatigued or sleepy leads to significant impairment of our driving performance, increases reaction times and reduces attention, compromising decision-making and our ability to control the vehicle. It’s incredibly risky. Drink a coffee. Have a rest. And survive.

Collisions caused by tiredness are roughly 50% more likely to result in death or serious injury

Tackling Tiredness Myths

Drivers regularly use countermeasures to tackle their tiredness, such as stopping for a walk, opening a window or turning on the radio. But these don’t work. While taking a quick break or drinking a caffeinated drink can make a short-term difference, it’s a very temporary measure. The sleepiness will keep returning until you’re properly rested.

See some of the most common MYTHS around driving when tired below.

  • Myth: Coffee can overcome tiredness while driving.

    Fact: Although caffeine may make you feel more alert, only sleep can truly overcome drowsiness.

  • Myth: I know when I’m about to fall asleep.

    Fact: You can’t predict when you are going to fall asleep. Often a tired driver falls asleep without even realising.

  • Myth: I can’t take naps.

    Fact: Even if you think you can’t nap, pull over safely, recline your seat, relax and you’ll likely fall asleep.

  • Myth: I’m a safe driver so my driving isn’t affected when I’m tired.

    Fact: The only safe driver is an alert one.

  • Myth: I’m young, driver fatigue will not affect me.

    Fact: Young adults need more sleep on average. Poorer quality sleep and adding in busy schedules mean fatigue becomes significant.

  • Myth: Playing the radio loudly will keep me awake.

    Fact: Turning up the radio may help temporarily but is also a distraction. The only solution is sleep.

  • Myth: Air Conditioning or an open window will keep you awake.

    Fact: While it may stimulate your brain for a few minutes, it won’t keep you awake for long.

  • Myth: A sugar rush will give you high energy and keep you awake for your drive.

    Fact: When we eat sugar, the pancreas releases insulin to manage that sugar. This puts the body in “danger mode” which leads to fatigue.

  • Myth: Driving at night will be safer as there is less traffic.

    Fact: If you are driving when you would normally be asleep, you will be fighting yourself to stay awake. Chances of falling asleep are very high.

The Facts

  • Fatigue is a contributory factor in around 50 fatal and serious injuries every year in Scotland.4
  • In 2019, fatigue was a contributory factor in 2% of all collisions, but in 5% of all road deaths.5
  • 1 in 3 UK drivers (31%) admit having experienced a microsleep at the wheel.6
  • A ‘microsleep’ occurs when someone nods off for between two and 30 seconds without realising or remembering it, often known as head-nodding. It usually happens when people are tired but trying to stay awake, most common in monotonous situations, such as motorway driving at night.
  • A person who drives after being awake for 17 hours has impaired driving skills comparable to a driver with a 50mg/100ml blood alcohol level – the legal limit.
  • Nearly two-fifths of UK drivers (37%) say they have been so tired they were scared they would fall asleep when driving.7
  • Almost half of UK drivers (49%) admitted driving after less than five hours’ sleep, highlighting that many drivers continue to drive when tired.8
  • Experts estimate driver fatigue crashes are under-reported, and are likely to account for up to 20 per cent of all UK vehicle collisions, and up to one quarter of fatal and serious crashes.9

Comparable to drink-driving

Driving whilst tired can impair your driving skills, just like drink driving does. A person who drives after being awake for 17 hours has impaired driving skills comparable to a driver with a 0.05 mg/ml blood alcohol level. A driver who hasn’t slept for 24 hours has impaired driving skills comparable to a driver with an illegally high blood alcohol concentration of 0.1 g/l3.

Tips

It’s easy to underestimate the risk of actually falling asleep behind the wheel. But it can be fatal. To minimise this risk, follow these top tips:

  • Make sure you’re well rested and feeling fit and healthy (and not taking any medication that causes drowsiness).
  • Plan your journey and allow sufficient time for the journey and regular breaks.
  • Take breaks at appropriate intervals. Do not drive more than 7.5 hours and schedule an overnight stop if your journey is over 12 hours.
  • Don’t drive if you feel tired. Pull over in a safe place, drink a coffee, and then take a nap while the caffeine kicks in.
  • Avoid driving when you’d normally be sleeping – between about midnight and 6am.
  • Be extra careful between 2pm and 4pm (especially after you’ve eaten).
  • Be aware of long journeys on monotonous roads, like motorways.
  • Plan to take the train or bus instead if you know you’re likely to be tired (e.g. you’ve finished a long shift, or you’ve been out the night before).
  • If you suffer from sleep apnoea with excessive sleepiness, you should not drive until your symptoms are under control.10

Night Driver

You can’t fight sleep. Can you spot the signs of driving tired?

Support our campaign

To support our campaign we’ve created a suite of assets for you to download and use to help to spread our campaign messages.

Sources

  1. ROSPA, 2020
  2. Armstrong, Obst, Banks & Smith, 2010; McCartt et al., 2000; Nordbakke & Sagberg, 2007
  3. Williamson & Feyer, 2000
  4. Transport Scotland, February 2020
  5. RRCS, 2020
  6. brake.org.uk
  7. AA Driving tired can be fatal
  8. brake.org.uk
  9. BMJ 2016
  10. Sleep Apnoea Trust