Research by Motoring Charity Brake and Insurance Company Direct Line has shockingly revealed that 45% of male drivers admit to ‘head-nodding’ whilst behind the wheel, risking disastrous and possibly fatal crashes. Head-nodding describes the practice of falling asleep briefly before abruptly waking up again, leading to people allowing their head to lull forward before returning to an upright position. This is less than ideal when you are behind the wheel of over a tonnes worth of metal.
Head-nodding can also be known as micro-sleeping and lasts anywhere between 2 – 30 seconds each time, a worrying amount of time for anyone to not be in control of their vehicle.
Although men are the main offenders they are not the only ones. The research revealed that:
- One in three drivers (31%) admitted to head-nodding whilst driving. This equates to almost half of all male drivers (45%) and one fifth of female drivers (22%).
- One in 14 drivers (7%) admit to actually falling completely asleep while driving. This works out as 14% of male drivers and 2% of female drivers.
- Almost half of all drivers (49%) admit driving after less than five hours’ sleep.
These figures become even more harrowing when they are combined with the fact that sleep driving accidents kill at least 300 people a year and are thought to cause one in five of all deaths on British trunk roads. The figure is thought to be higher but driver tiredness is difficult to prove as a contributing factor in most crashes. The majority of the crashes take the form of vehicles coming off roads or rear ending other vehicles and often occur at high speed as the driver is not aware to apply the brakes.
For those with Fleet Management responsibilities the issue is not just a personal one. The drivers you manage are most at risk of falling asleep at the wheel than any others with four in ten tiredness-related crashes involving a commercial vehicle. So how can you prevent yourself from falling asleep at the wheel?
Warning Signs You Are Too Tired To Drive
More often than not sleep will creep up on you with you hardly noticing, especially on long, protracted journeys on motorways where you can suffer from highway hypnosis. Signs you are about to fall asleep can include:
- difficulty concentrating
- heavy eyelids
- rolling eyes
- head drooping
It is at this point where micro-sleeps can occur without the driver being aware. To put micro-sleeps into perspective, if you nod-off for 6 seconds whilst travelling at 70mph you will cover 200m. A frightful distance for someone to be travelling completely unaware of their surroundings and other drivers. It is also worth noting that when driving for long distances on less than five hours sleep you only have a 1 in 10 chance of staying awake for the whole journey. Couple this with the fact that if you do crash and cause a death when falling asleep while driving you can be found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving, for which the maximum penalty is 14 years in prison. Is it really worth the risk?
How To Avoid Falling Asleep While Driving
The best thing you can do to prevent yourself from falling asleep at the wheel is to ensure you get enough sleep the night before. If you don’t do this there is nothing you will be able to do to stop yourself from eventually nodding off. The recommended amount of sleep is 7 hours minimum. Once you are on the road you should take a break a minimum of once every two hours for 15 minutes at a time. However, if you feel you need to you should stop more frequently than that.
The classic trick of winding down the window to get some fresh air or turning up the radio does not prevent tiredness, it may give you a brief shock but your body will soon adjust and return to its weary state. If you feel tired you must stop as soon as you can in a safe area, a service station is ideal as it will allow you to get your hands on a coffee or some sort of energy drink. You should drink the aforementioned beverage and then try and take a nap while the caffeine kicks in. You then have two options available, allowing yourself to wake up naturally (which will ensure you are refreshed enough to drive) or setting an alarm on your phone for 10 – 15 minutes and then seeing how you feel when you wake up. If you still feel too tired to drive safely you must go back to sleep until you feel properly refreshed.
With the deployment of sensors that detect driver fatigue beginning in some private, and many commercial vehicles your car may soon stop itself if you begin to fall asleep at the wheel but that won’t be for a few more years yet. Until that time, if everyone was to follow this advice, 300 sleep driving accidents could be prevented per year! So, next time you’re about to step behind the wheel of your car ask yourself if you really have enough energy to make the drive safely.
Written by Ryan Hill
Blurred steering wheel image attribution: wStrauss
Crashed car image attribution: WarmSleepy
Man asleep at wheel attribution: perthhdproductions