Why do people drive when they're tired?

Wednesday, 06 October 2010

We've all seen the signs. You'll be driving along the motorway and suddenly a sign will pop up telling you not to drive while tired. But how many of us really pay attention?

Research from the motoring charity Brake shows that three-quarters of Brits have admitted to driving while tired in the past 12 months, with almost one in ten of these saying they do so at least once a week.

When you think about the number of people who drive on Britain's roads every day it's a rather sobering statistic. It is also a huge increase on the 46 per cent of people who admitted to driving sleep deprived six years ago.

The number of car insurance customers taking to the UK's roads while tired is having serious consequences, according to Brake. The charity cites figures from the Department of Transport which show that one in five crashes on trunk roads are caused by sleep-deprived drivers. It claims that these accidents are also likely to happen when the vehicle is travelling at higher speeds.

Previous research by What Car? has shown that driving while tired can be just as dangerous as being in charge of a car while drunk. Tests done at the Transport Research Laboratory found that a sleep-deprived driver performs worse than a motorist 25 per cent over the drink drive limit.

Ellen Booth, Brake's campaigns officer, said: "It is terrifying how complacent drivers are about tiredness at the wheel. It only takes a couple of seconds of sleep to cause a fatal crash, yet millions of drivers are regularly getting behind the wheel while tired."

Many of us are also unaware of how to combat tiredness on the roads, according to the charity.

Simple advice from the government about what to do if you feel sleepy behind the wheel is to pull into a service station, drink caffeine, and, if possible, take a power nap. On long journeys, people should take a break every two hours for a minimum of 15 minutes.

Yet, Brake's research showed that many people try to use methods to stay awake which quite simply don't work. More people (54 per cent) would choose to play a CD in the car than pull over and take a nap (21 per cent) or drink caffeine (43 per cent).

One in three people say that they simply splash water on their faces, in what the charity describes as the "vain hope" that it will wake them up.

It would seem that the government is also aware that the message isn't getting through. It recently launched a campaign in association with the Stobart Group and Tesco to educate drivers while they're on the roads.

Some 200 trucks are now driving around the UK with signs on the back reminding motorists of the dangers of driving while tired, as well as the consequences of using a mobile phone behind the wheel.

The question as to whether this will be enough to stop many motorists taking other people's lives into their hands by driving while tired remains to be answered.

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