The summer festival has drawn to a close and you and your friends have had a great time enjoying the live music and electric atmosphere. As the designated driver, you are responsible for ferrying your fellow festival-goers home…safely! But you’re feeling shattered, worn out from the festivities and not looking forward to the long drive ahead. What do you do?
You may feel you can risk it and get behind the wheel anyway. This is a bad idea, not only are you gambling with your life, but also the lives of your passengers and potentially other road users. Driving when tired reduces your reaction time, which is a key element of safe driving, and with your friends in the car with you, there is bound to be plenty of chatter which will only serve to distract you further.
Driver fatigue is no laughing matter; it is a serious problem which results in thousands of road accidents each year. Research shows that driver fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20 per cent of road accidents, and up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents*. These types of crashes are about 50 per cent more likely to result in death or serious injury as they tend to be high speed impacts. A driver who has fallen asleep cannot brake or swerve to avoid or reduce the impact.
The first thing that may cross your mind to help you stay awake is to reach for an emergency cup of coffee. Drinking at least 150mg of caffeine and taking a nap of around 15 minutes are the only measures that help to reduce sleepiness. But even these are temporary measures; sleepiness will return if the driver does not stop driving within a fairly short period of time. By planning ahead, particularly when driving on motorways, you can work in a series of breaks to give you time to pull over in a safe place and have a rest. A minimum break is recommended of at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving. Remember not to stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway. Alternatively, plan in advance an overnight stop, as this will then give you the welcome option of driving for a few hours, with a break, to a hotel, for example, before waking up fresh to complete the journey the following day.
You may decide that the chances of you falling asleep at the wheel are slim, but can you afford to take the risk? Driving whilst tired makes you less vigilant and alert. It also affects your concentration levels and the quality of your decision-making.
Crashes caused by tired drivers are most likely to happen:
- On long journeys on monotonous roads, such as motorways
- Between 2am and 6am
- Between 2pm and 4pm (especially after eating)
- After having less sleep than normal
- After drinking alcohol
- After taking medicines that cause drowsiness
- After long working hours or on journeys home after long shifts, especially night shifts.
Here are RoSPA’s top tips on how to avoid the risk of falling asleep at the wheel:
- Plan your journey. Write out a route that you can read easily and/or programme the SatNav to its destination prior to setting off
- Check your vehicle is in a safe condition before heading out on the road. Check the tyres, lights, windscreen wipers and all fluid levels
- Decide in advance where to stop for regular rest breaks
- Consider having an overnight break so that you don’t get too tired, but plan this in advance
- If possible, share the driving with a second driver
- Try not to drink the night before a long car journey. Alcohol stays in the body for several hours and will make you more sleepy
- If you are taking any medication, check whether it causes drowsiness. If it does, ask your doctor or pharmacist for an alternative that does not cause drowsiness.
Next time you are faced with the daunting task of driving home after a festival, take time out to make sure you are fully awake and prepared – try not to give into peer pressure if you are not feeling your best. One moment’s lapse in concentration while out on the roads could be your last, but by making changes to your driving behaviour the risk of an accident can be reduced.
For more information on road safety, visit www.rospa.com/roadsafety/.
For other festival-related safety advice, visit http://safetygonesane.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/be-carbon-monoxide-aware-when-letting-your-hair-down-at-summer-festivals/.
*Figures quoted by the Sleep Research Laboratory at Loughborough University (“Sleep Related Vehicle Accidents”, Jim Horne and Louise Reyner, 2000) and the Department for Transport’s Road Safety Research Report No. 52, October 2004 (“Sleep-Related Crashes on Sections of Different Road Types in the UK, 1995-2001).
Kevin Clinton, RoSPA’s head of road safety