Stay alert on those long summer road journeys

Posted on July 29th, 2011 by David Williams MBE

It’s summer holiday time for many of us, and with that comes the opportunity to get away for a week or two… usually to somewhere that’s a fair old drive from home. Pressure of time, combined with encouragement from occupants of the rear seats, means there’s an urge to press on and get to your destination at the earliest opportunity.

Stay alert on those long summer road journeys

There are many examples, including my own neighbours, who were determined to get to their holiday villa on the Spanish Mediterranean coast without any substantial break. Sharing the driving would have helped, but it’s still an enormous distance to cover in one go.

However, their endurance pales into insignificance compared with a couple of Finnish gentlemen who, with their wives, escape the harsh northern winter and spend the period between November and March in Malaga. Or at least, this is what they have done for the past six years. The wives fly but the men drive, and there’s an annual challenge between them as to who can complete the road journey back from Malaga to Helsinki in the shorter time.

We’re talking about a distance of more than 2,500 miles, attempted with breaks only for fuel and coffee. That, in my book, displays a reckless disregard not only for your own needs but for the safety of others.

Recently-released research from the Dutch Road Safety Institute shows that many car drivers tend to drive even though they themselves think they are too tired to do so. They are aware of the dangers this causes and know that they should stop to have a rest or ask someone else to drive. Nevertheless, they continue to drive. These are some of the conclusions from a survey about ‘state awareness’ and fatigue.

State Awarness

State awareness, the reseachers maintain, is one of the Sustainable Safety principles and involves the capability of people to judge how well they can perform a task. We are of course concerned with driving and how well they perform in traffic. How capable do they consider themselves and how good are they really?

State awareness is also connected with risk awareness and calibration: How dangerous do road users consider a traffic situation to be, and how dangerous is it really? And how do they tune their behaviour to their capabilities in order to perform safely in traffic?

Drivers interviewed for the Dutch study said they recognize fatigued driving mostly from yawning, not being able to keep their eyes open, and loss of concentration. At that moment they could decide to stop driving and to have a short nap or to ask a passenger to take over the wheel. Drivers find these two strategies to deal with fatigue the most effective. They are also the most effective measures from an objective point of view. However, they are not the most widely used strategies: drivers mainly opt for letting fresh air into the car, talking to a passenger, having a stop to eat or exercise, or turning the music louder.

Don’t ignore the signs

The most important reasons to start or continue driving anywhere are that we see the need to get to where we are going, that there is often no one else in the car who could take over, and the belief that we will be able to make it home all right. This indicates that there appears to be state awareness, where drivers do realise that they are tired, but many of them ignore the symptoms, accept the risk of fatigued driving, and start or continue to drive nevertheless.

Reduce your risk on the road this summer by waking up to the dangers of fatigue. Make sure you get plenty of sleep before a long journey. Plan to drive during times of the day when you’re normally awake, don’t push yourself to complete a long journey all in one go. Schedule a night stop somewhere rather than ‘pressing on’ regardless. And, if you’re able to get away, then have a great holiday!