Are you looking forward to some well-earned rest on your summer break? It may be more than your life is worth to get some before you go, says RoadSafe.
Driver sleepiness is thought to be responsible for 300 road deaths a year in the UK. The Department for Transport also estimates that it causes up to 20% of accidents on major roads.
RoadSafe is warning holidaymakers in particular to get some rest before making long journeys. Drivers setting off in the early hours and on monotonous roads are at high risk of microsleeps.
These short sleeps last only 2 to 30 seconds. Many people do not realise they have experienced them, but they are all the time it takes to have a crash. Symptoms to look out for are difficulty keeping eyes open, head nodding and the vehicle drifting in the lane.
Drivers should stop long before they reach this point. Repeated yawning is an early warning of microsleeps. This is the time to get off the road and find somewhere safe to sleep properly.
Tactics to stay awake, such as listening to music and opening the window, have no affect on alertness. Drinking two cups of coffee and taking a 20 minute nap can have some benefit, but once driving again the dangerous level of sleepiness will soon return, and repeating the process will not have the same effect.
RoadSafe’s director, Adrian Walsh, says, “Many people don’t realise they are at risk of falling asleep at the wheel. It can happen to any of us at any age. Just one night’s disturbed sleep can cause extreme short-term tiredness, resulting in a moment’s lapse in concentration.”
Five tips to stave off sleepiness:
- Have a goodnight’s sleep before setting out on a long journey.
- Plan journeys to include a 15 minute break every two hours of driving – and make sure you take them.
- Share the driving if possible.
- Avoid making long trips between midnight and 6am, and 2 to 4pm when natural alertness is low.
- If yawning begins, stop in a safe place as soon as possible (not the hard shoulder of a motorway). Proper sleep is needed but a good counter measure is to drink two cups of strong coffee or a high caffeine drink and nap for 20 minutes. (Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to take effect. This is time for a short nap. This countermeasure should allow you to continue driving but only for a short time. The benefits of the break will wear off quickly. Trying to repeat them will not have the same effect, and the sleepiness will return.)