Don’t drive tired

Posted on July 22nd, 2013 by James Luckhurst

Yawning driverIt’s important to know that there’s more to fatigue than simply nodding off at the wheel. After all, experts know that falling asleep is a form of fatigue, but it’s the most extreme form, occurring only after a number of other – easily recognisable – symptoms have been ignored. Your driving can be affected by fatigue long before you are so tired that you are in serious danger of falling asleep at the wheel.

But let’s start by understanding a few general facts about how we function. We have an in-built body clock in the brain, coordinating daily cycles which are known as circadian rhythms. Our body clock programmes us to feel very sleepy between 3 am and 5 am, and to experience another dip in alertness between 2 pm and 4 pm. It’s at these times that we experience our worst physical and mental performance of the day. No surprise, then, to know that there’s an increase in fatigue-related crashes at these times.

So what does this mean for your  driving? Well, fatigue affects you in many ways. The most obvious early symptom is a reduction in your ability to concentrate and focus on what’s going on around you.

It will take you longer to get to grips with information which you would interpret immediately when fully alert. For example, you could find yourself spending some while simply staring at a road sign – or worse – a hazard ahead, without being able to interpret the message it’s offering and therefore being able to react promptly.

You may also find – especially on a long, dull motorway journey – that you may be drifting out of your lane, and finding it quite difficult to stay within the markings of the lane you’re using. You may think you’re going at a constant speed, but it’s a common trait among fatigued drivers to change speed more frequently and for no good reason. You may also find yourself fidgeting in your seat in an attempt to wake up a bit.

The result? Fatigue is reckoned to be the cause of a large number of single vehicle crashes involving a car striking a tree or other rigid object, and severe head-on collisions. Researchers believe fatigue is involved in between 10% and 25% of all crashes and it accounts for around 20% of all serious accidents on motorways.

Drink-driving is particularly dangerous in combination with fatigue, because alcohol can affect a driver’s alertness long before he or she reaches the legal drink-drive limit. Any amount of alcohol can combine with fatigue to affect your driving. Driving at higher speeds when affected by fatigue also increases risk, as a fatigued driver with slower reactions will need more time to react to events unfolding ahead of him. However, higher speeds mean of course that you have LESS time to react.

Make sure you are  well rested before any long journey – and stop driving as soon as you recognise the early symptoms of fatigue.

Check out GEM’s video on the subject