The effects of fatigue on driving can be severe. Tired drivers are likely to have slower reaction times, reduced vigilance and difficulty processing information. In extreme cases fatigue can cause a driver to fall into a ‘micro sleep’ where they lose consciousness for several seconds, or to completely fall asleep at the wheel.
In support of the National Safety Council’s National Safety Month, which focuses on fatigue during Week 2, here are eight tips to avoid driving while fatigued.
1. Get enough sleep
Although the amount required by each person varies, on average, most adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep each night. You should be able to tell whether you are getting the right amount of sleep by how you feel during the day. If you feel drowsy you probably haven’t had enough.
2. Be aware of ‘tired’ hours
Avoid driving at times when you would usually be asleep. If possible you should also avoid driving during peak times of sleepiness – the early hours of the morning and during the afternoon ‘dip’ of 2 – 4pm.
3. Consider lifestyle factors
If you feel sleepy during the day you should consider whether your lifestyle is contributing to your tiredness.
Think about factors such as:
- Shift working
- Family responsibilities, such as a new baby
- Socialising in the evening
By examining what is making you feel tired you may be able to take action to cut out or reduce the impact of these factors. Consult your GP if necessary.
4. Look for warning signs
Tiredness does not occur suddenly, but creeps up on us gradually with a number of warning signs. It is vital that you look out for these warning signs and take notice of your body. If it is telling you that you are tired, then you MUST NOT DRIVE.
Warning signs of driving while tired include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble keeping your eyes open
- Neck muscles relaxing, causing your head to droop
- Difficulty remembering driving the last few miles
- Frequent blinking
- Varying speed for no reason
- Drifting over lane markings
5. Plan regular breaks
Plan journeys to incorporate a 15 minute break for every 2 hours of driving. Plan ahead to identify rest locations where it is safe to park up and get out of your vehicle for fresh air.
6. Take action!
If you begin to feel sleepy while driving you MUST take a break from driving – even if you are not ‘due’ a break. Pull over in a safe place (never on the hard shoulder of a motorway) as soon as it is safe to do so and take a 15-minute power nap. Ideally, take the opportunity to get out of your vehicle to stretch your legs and get some fresh air.
Never rely on ‘quick fixes’ such as coffee, energy drinks or winding down the window as methods of staying awake. The only solution to tiredness is sleep.
7. Avoid drugs and alcohol
Never drink any alcohol or take any drugs when driving. Both substances are highly dangerous when driving as they have a vast number of side effects – including fatigue. Even a very small amount of alcohol (under the legal drink drive limit) can make you feel sleepy. You should also refrain from drinking alcohol and taking drugs the night before driving as you could still be impaired the morning after.
8. Check medicines
Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines can affect driving by causing drowsiness or slowing reaction times.
These can include:
- Cough medicines
- Hay fever remedies
- Anti-nausea treatments
Do you have any road safety advice you’d like to share with other drivers?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.