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Issue: July at  25 July 2013

Brake is calling for more to be done to help drivers by creating more stopping places for drivers to take a break and more government advertising on the risks of driving tired, raising awareness about the importance of not embarking on a journey while tired, and steps to take if you start to feel drowsy at the wheel. We also need greater crash protection on trunk roads, such as longer crash barriers over bridges, to reduce the severity of crashes if they do happen.

Action to tackle tired driving among fleet drivers is also needed because an estimated 4 in 10 tired driver crashes involves a commercial vehicle driver. Brake recommends regular testing of people who drive for work for sleep apnoea, a treatable condition that makes falling asleep at the wheel much more likely, thought to be particularly widespread among HGV drivers. Brake also believes the rules controlling hours that can be driven by truck and bus drivers should be extended to cover fleet drivers in vans and cars.

If you are driving you should get plenty of sleep before any journey, plan your journey to include time for adequate rest and don't set out if you are already tired. Take rest breaks at least every 2 hours for a minimum of 15 minutes.

If you feel tired when driving, listen to the warning signs straight away and stop for a break somewhere safe as soon as you can. Sleep ensues faster than you think; trying to fight off sleep by opening the window or listening to the radio puts you at risk of 'microsleeps', when you nod off for 2 to 30 seconds without remembering it. Microsleeps can be fatal, at 70mph, a driver travels 200m in 6 seconds. However, fatigue can even affect your ability to drive safely long before microsleeps occur.

If you start to feel sleepy while driving stop for at least a 15 minute break somewhere safe. If you drink caffeine, drink 2 cups of coffee or preferably a high caffeine energy drink, then take a 10 to 15 minute snooze. By the time you wake up any caffeine will have kicked in and you may feel alert enough to continue your journey. If you still feel tired, or you still have a long way to go, you should stay put and try to find somewhere to get a good night's sleep. Caffeine is a temporary drug and its effects do not last long. Sleep is the only long-term cure to tiredness.

In April 2008, Mark, 32, from Thetford, Norfolk, was just 10 minutes away from home, travelling back after visiting friends in Hertfordshire. The driver behind Mark watched him drive steadily for around a mile and then saw his car drift across the road. As Mark swerved to return to the correct side of the road he drove into a 40 tonne vehicle driving in the opposite direction. He died instantly.

Barry Love, step father of Mark, said:- "I have driven a lot for work so was aware of the effect that tiredness can have when driving, but Mark's death really brought this home. It is awful to think that something so easily avoidable took Mark away from us, and caused such pain and devastation to our family. The issue of driver fatigue needs far more public awareness, as tiredness can come on very quickly. If you notice any signs of tiredness before setting off, please rethink whether the journey is essential, or if you're already driving, take a rest as soon as you possibly can."

More information can be found via:-

Loughborough University Sleep Research

Department for Transport:-

Figures are reported in the Road Casualties Great Britain Annual Report 2011, Department for Transport, 2012.

See Motorway service areas could lose power to fine motorists, The Telegraph.

Respironics SASA research, BBC Real Story with Fiona Bruce, BBC1, 21 November 2005.

Fatigue and Road Safety:- A Critical Analysis of Recent Evidence, Department for Transport, 2011.

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