Beware the dangers of nodding off at the wheel

21 September


The latest official figures show that falling asleep while driving could be a factor in one in ten of all road accidents.

Even worse, it’s believed to cause up to 20% of collisions on motorways.

More than ever, the figures show why we need safety limits for the amount of time drivers spend at the wheel. That’s why there are strict European rules regulating the hours that HGV drivers work.

In fact, all drivers on company business, from salesmen to delivery drivers, should take care over their driving hours. And employers are governed by health and safety laws, the ‘duty of care’ responsibilities and even the conditions of their insurance which can restrict the time staff can spend at the wheel each day.

Above all these rather vague and complex rules and regulations, there’s a simple principle for anyone driving or supervising drivers on company business. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents explains: “Operators have clear duties under both health and safety law and road traffic law to ensure that they manage their road operations in a way that minimizes risk to their employees and to everyone else using the road."

“This means that, in addition to many other things, they must ensure that their drivers are not at risk of falling asleep at the wheel or driving when tiredness impairs their driving ability.”

In other words, it’s simple: no employee, from the driver of an artic to a director in his executive saloon, should be required to drive when they’re tired.

How many of us remember that the Highway Code recommends you should take a 15-minute break every two hours?

Interestingly, research shows that men aged between 18-30 are most at risk, accounting for around half of sleep-related accidents. It also shows that drivers are more likely to nod off in the following situations:

• During long drives on dull roads like motorways

• While driving between 2am and 6am in the morning

• Driving between 2pm and 4pm in the afternoon, especially after eating or having one alcoholic drink

• If you’ve had less sleep than normal

• After taking medicines that cause drowsiness, like hayfever relief

• Driving home after a night shift

Perhaps this simple advice from the Department for Transport on what to do if you start feeling sleepy at the wheel is just as useful as all the complex rules and regulations:

• If you start to feel sleepy, find a safe place to stop

• Drink two cups of coffee or a high caffeine drink

• Take a short nap and resume your journey 15-20 minutes later

• Remember that opening the window or turning up the radio will NOT stop you falling asleep at the wheel

So if you’re ever feeling tired while driving, or are concerned that this may be a concern of your fleet drivers, think about the appropriate actions to take to minimise the risk of causing a road accident.

Download a free ‘Driving at Work’ guide from the Health & Safety Executive here. Pages 7 and 8 refer to measures to combat accidents caused by tired drivers.


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