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Drowsy driving – know your limits

A drowsy driver at the wheel.

Early starts, long hours in the office and late nights spent socialising are all things that can cause us to feel sleepy behind the wheel. But drowsy driving is extremely dangerous – to you, your passengers and all other road users. As a new DVLA booklet quite rightly puts it: tiredness can kill.

According to estimates shared by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), driver fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents, as well as up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents.

Accidents involving drowsy drivers are around 50% more likely to lead to serious injury or death. This is because crashes are usually high impact, as the driver who's fallen asleep is unable to swerve or brake to avoid or limit the impact.

Government statistics cited by This is Money show 62 people died on Britain's roads in 2017 in collisions where fatigue was a factor, and 462 were seriously injured.

When crashes are most likely to happen

As RoSPA explains, collisions involving drowsy drivers are most likely to happen:

  • On long journeys on monotonous roads, like motorways
  • Early morning, between 2am and 6am
  • Mid-afternoon, between 2pm and 4pm (especially after eating, or after having just one alcoholic drink)
  • If taking medication where drowsiness is a possible side effect
  • After long hours at work or on the drive home after a long shift, in particular night shifts.

Feel tired? STOP!

We've all heard winding down a car window can combat tiredness, but this doesn't work – at least, not for long.

The best piece of advice we can give is to stop at a safe place at the first sign of tiredness, or when you start to doubt how alert you are behind the wheel. If you're on the motorway, never pull onto the hard shoulder unless it's an emergency – drive to the nearest service station instead.

RoSPA writes drivers feeling sleepy should drink two cups of coffee (containing at least 150mg of caffeine) and take a nap of around 15 minutes. Bear in mind, though, these are only temporary measures and sleepiness will return. So, you should only drive for a short period of time once you get back on the road.

Medical conditions and drowsiness

If you're taking any medication that can cause drowsiness, make sure you check and follow the advice given in the information leaflet.

You must tell the DVLA if you have a medical condition makes you feel very sleepy during the time you'd usually be awake. Don't tell them and you could face a fine of up to £1,000, not to mention prosecution if you're involved in a collision as a result.

Driving drowsy is simply not worth the risk. Know your limits, don't attempt a journey if you feel sleepy, and if you get tired on the road, stop in a safe place as soon as you can.

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