Tiredness at the Wheel: An Essential Road Safety Guide for Understanding Driver Fatigue
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While we don’t like to think about it, road accidents claim more than a thousand lives every year.
In 2019, as many as 1,738 people were killed on UK roads. And while some accidents are not preventable,
the true tragedy is the number of lives lost every year as a result of crashes which could have been avoided.
Tiredness at the wheel, or driving fatigue, is one such example. Most people are fairly confident in their
driving abilities. It’s for that reason a lot of us will take to the roads, even when we really aren’t awake
enough to properly focus. In this guide we’re going to look at driving fatigue in detail, highlighting the causes
as well as the preventative measures you can take to drastically reduce your chances of having an accident
DRIVER FATIGUE STATISTICS
Let’s start by taking a closer look at some of the key statistics for fatigued driving on UK roads. Whether you’re
a new or experienced driver, the numbers show everyone can fall victim to this overlooked killer.
UK road accidents caused by fatigue
Fatigue and tiredness behind the wheel is one of the biggest killers on UK roads. In fact, it’s estimated
as many as 300 people die each year as a result of someone falling asleep while driving.
The AA Charitable Trust has looked in detail at the numbers, conducting a survey of 20,561 drivers to
discover how fatigue really translates onto UK roads. Shockingly, they found as many as 13% (2,673 people)
had fallen asleep while driving at some point in their lives. They also discovered as many as 37% felt so tired
while they were driving, they worried they wouldn’t be able to stay awake for the whole journey. The survey
would go on to discover:
57% of people stopped the moment they realised they might be too tired to keep driving
36% worryingly said they felt fine when they started their drive,
with their drowsiness hitting them suddenly
11% of people were aware they were too tired when they began their journey
23% said they had been driving for more than two hours without a break when they
were hit by fatigue
The National Sleep Foundation emphasise just how dangerous driving when you’re sleep-deprived can be.
They report that driving when awake for 18 hours has the same impact on the brain as someone with a blood
alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05%. Meanwhile, driving after 24 hours awake equates to 0.10%.
While these numbers might sound low, the legal limit throughout most of the UK is 0.08%, while in Scotland
it’s just 0.05%. When you think about it in that context, the numbers are a little scary. And what’s more, even
a momentary lack of control over your vehicle can have potentially catastrophic consequences.
The Transport Accident Commission of Australia calculated that falling asleep for only four seconds while
travelling at 62mph would see you travel 111m completely lacking control of your vehicle. To put that figure
in some perspective, an average football pitch in the UK is 105m in length.
It’s this lack of control that often makes collisions caused by fatigue all the more deadly. While they make up
just 20% of accidents on the road, people who are in this kind of collision are
Brake highlight some of the most startling figures when it comes to tiredness on the road. They found:
6am is the time when drivers are most likely to fall asleep
20x This is 20 times more likely than the safest time, 10pm at night
4% of all fatal road crashes are caused by fatigue in the UK
(although it’s estimated this number might be higher)
Who is most at risk?
Just as with anything that involves driving, certain groups and even regions are more prone to falling victim
to driving fatigue. Motor1 conducted their own research, finding that drivers in Kent were the most likely to
have an accident as a result of tiredness.
The results showed the five counties of the UK which were most at risk of fatigue-related crashes:
Kent – 82
Devon – 61
Surrey – 52
Norfolk – 43
Hertfordshire – 37
The AA found that young drivers (aged 18-24) were arguably the most at risk of having an accident while behind
the wheel. In most cases, this was as a result of overconfidence, rather than a lack of ability. Findings showed:
13% > 2% of young drivers said being tired did not affect their abilities, compared
to 2% of all drivers surveyed
18% > 3% also said they were more likely to carry on driving even when fatigued,
compared to just 3% of all drivers who said the same
29% > 11% said they were tired at the beginning of their journey, but carried on
regardless – a lot more than the 11% of all people surveyed
They also found that men were more than three times as likely to drive when tired compared to women, with
figures showing 17% of males and 5% of females driving when already feeling exhausted.
Other groups of drivers who may regularly fall victim to driving fatigue included:
Workers with rotating night shifts
People with untreated sleep disorders
And while these particular people might be the most at risk, it’s important to remember that anyone can be
affected by tiredness on the road. Regardless of age, gender or experience, it’s important everyone gets the right
amount of rest.