There has been a lot in the press over the years about drivers who drink and drive, and drivers who take drugs – including both prescription and over the counter drugs – with some drivers not realising they are not in a fit state to drive a car. Drink driving has taken decades to become more culturally unacceptable. The THINK! Campaign has done an immense amount to encourage people to change their behaviours. However, despite the campaigns, policing and tougher penalties, there remains habitual drink drivers who will not be deterred, those who don’t think that they are impaired to drive and those who think they can get away with it. So, surely being a bit tired isn’t the same as drink-driving?
Possibly the most notable UK example of driving tired was the Selby crash in 2001, when a driver tragically killed ten and injured 80 people due to the fact he was driving in the early hours without enough sleep. The defendant, who was driving his Land Rover on the M62, dozed at the wheel and veered off the road through a gap between the safety barriers. He fell down a bank onto a high-speed railway line, derailing a southbound express into the path of a late-running coal train. When sentencing the defendant, the judge gave a warning that taking charge of a car while sleepy ranked morally the same as drink driving. Perhaps the most striking thing about the case was that the defendant believed he was not like other people and that he functioned differently. The jury did not accept or agree with this argument and he was sentenced to five years in prison. The maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is currently fourteen years, however, new government proposals expect to increase this to life.
According to the 2016 RAC Report on Motoring, when it came to understanding driver distraction, 40% of responders cited tiredness as the largest distraction, indicating that nearly half of us are driving tired. Other distractions were passengers talking and something interesting happening outside the car. In the 2016 Great British Bedtime Report, the Sleep Council cited that almost half of Britons say that stress or worry keeps them awake at night (47%). Perhaps it is coincidental that this statistic is so close to RAC’s, but either way, it would be dangerous to ignore.
Unsurprisingly, yawning, sore eyes, restlessness and over-steering are just some of the warning signs. Further THINK advice can be found here.
The best way to avoid being distracted by tiredness when driving a car is to not be tired in the first place. But if you’re unsure, there are useful driver fatigue app tests that can help assess your drivability. If you recognise yourself as someone who struggles to sleep well, the Sleep Council’s 30 day plan could help.
Rachael Quinn, WSP Intelligent Transport Services
Note: This article is the third in Rachael Quinn’s ‘Only Human’ series. Other articles have covered aspects such as kindness and stress in the field of transport.