Driving and Drowsiness – A Dangerous Combination
Being drowsy whilst driving is a major problem in the UK, and it’s enough to test even the safest and most experienced of drivers. Drowsy driving usually happens when you have not slept enough, but can also occur due to untreated sleep disorders, taking medications, or even shift work. It can affect you at any time, as it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when sleep comes over the body. Just as driving while intoxicated is risky and dangerous, not to mention illegal, drowsiness makes you less able to pay attention to the road, slows your reaction time particularly if you need to break or steer abruptly, and affects your ability to make sound driving decisions. We are all aware of the common dangers associated with driving while alert, such as other cars failing to signal and low visibility, but drowsiness is an equally dangerous way to hurt yourself and other drivers around you. A lack of sleep accounts for approximately 20% of all crashes on main roads here in the UK, so don’t be a statistic, pull over to rest or change drivers if you feel any warning signs coming on.
In the UK, if you have a car accident whilst sleep deprived, the law will make you accountable. Although the courts have some deal of flexibility on this matter, if you are charged with dangerous driving, and by definition this means driving in a way that is below the minimum acceptable standard and poses a risk to personal injury or safety, then you will be charged. While a judge’s sentence may vary depending on the amount of damage caused by an accident, at the very minimum your license will be revoked. A prison sentence of up to five years is also possible, even if no serious injury or harm has been done. It is clear to see that the UK judicial system takes driving whilst drowsy very seriously.
Is It That Common?
Surprisingly, driving whilst tired is more common than one would think. What would seem as something that is easily avoidable by following a regular pattern of sleep and ensuring your energy levels are stable, driving whilst tired happens more often than imagined. For example, if you are looking forward to an event or a special occasion and are unable to sleep through the night, you may well find yourself sleep deprived in the morning. This poses potential risks to your driving skills, including excessive speeding, or worse, nodding off at the wheel.
Most accidents occur between the hours of 2-6am, even amongst those who are sober. At this time of the day, most people are relaxed and a bit more carefree with their driving as the roads are generally quieter. This is when drivers lose control of their vehicles and crash as their focus is not on other vehicles around them.
Commercial drivers – those who operate tow trucks and buses, for example, are particularly vulnerable during this time of the day, and for two main reasons. Firstly, commercial drivers tend to either be on a delivery deadline or need to return to their base depot, and because of this, they rarely break through the night and get the rest they need. Secondly, and as the Freight Transport Association points out, there is a lack of rest-stop facilities for commercial drivers on UK motorways. The Association describes this shortage as a mistake and an example of how money and business will always win over common sense and personal safety.
The Warning Signs of Drowsy Driving
There is a difference between being tired and being too tired to drive, and it’s something that can hit you at any time. You may start on an all-day car journey perfectly fine and alert, but as the journey progresses you can easily start to feel tired.
The National Sleep Foundation has identified a few symptoms to watch out for which can help you determine when to take a rest break. Some of these symptoms include:
· - Struggling to focus accompanied by frequent blinking and heavy eyelids
· - Daydreaming and keeping your focus
· - Difficulty remembering the last distances driven
· - Missing your exit and drifting from your lane
· - Repeated yawning and irritability
If it feels as though you are suffering from one or more of these symptoms, find a safe place to pull off on the side of the road, such as a resting spot. If you have another person in the vehicle who is licensed and insured to drive, ask them to take over. Just remember not to panic if you feel any of these symptoms as increased fear means there is a generally a higher risk of crash.
Although drinking coffee can help in small doses, it is best not to rely on it as a solution to your drowsiness as too much caffeine can make a driver experience lapses in concentration and slower reaction times. Coffee consumption is only to be used as a quick fix and not as a substitute for regular breaks. The best advice is to stay calm and exercise caution and good judgement so you can get to your destination safely and securely.
Article written and kindly supplied to us by Justin Fox