We probably all know the feeling. You’re hurtling down the motorway at 70mph whizzing past the ‘Tiredness can kill’ signs, yet for some inexplicable reason, your body wants to take a nap at that very, totally exposed, moment.
Government research suggests that almost 20% of accidents on major roads are sleep-related. Given that monotonous but high speed motorway journeys can induce tiredness most, sleep-related accidents are also most likely to result in a fatality or serious injury .
Driver fatigue presents a very real and relevant challenge for anyone running a fleet of vehicles, particularly given the sobering fact that about 40% of sleep-related accidents involve commercial vehicles . We all seem to strive to squeeze more and more into our already busy lives and drivers can often hit the road on a Monday morning exhausted by a busy weekend, rather than refreshed by it.
According to ROSPA, young male drivers, truck drivers, company car drivers and shift workers are most at risk of falling asleep while driving .
UK Department for Transport-funded research by the Loughborough Sleep Research Centre has revealed that men under 30 have the highest risk of falling asleep at the wheel and are also generally more optimistic about their ability to continue driving by battling sleepiness . This could explain why over one third of sleep-related accidents are caused by this group 
Male drivers are also much more likely to cause a sleep-related crash than females – 85% of sleep-related crashes are caused by men .
But another mid-afternoon dip in the body clock is suffered most acutely by 60 years+ drivers, making older drivers also more susceptible to nodding off at the wheel .
- Remind your drivers about the risk: Sending regular risk reminders to your drivers is a good way of demonstrating your ongoing commitment to their welfare. Brake provide a good online guide for drivers here.
- Confirm that opening the window, turning up the radio or downing a strong coffee while driving are dangerous and ineffective last ditched attempts to stay awake and are really just a massive wake up call to take a break.
- Warn them about the peak times for accidents – in the early hours of the morning and after lunch. The RAC recommends that drivers avoid making long trips between midnight-6am and 2-4pm when natural alertness is low .
- Highlight the UK ‘Highway Code’ recommendations: If they are starting to feel sleepy, they should immediately stop driving, have about 150mg caffeine (a couple of cups of coffee or other high caffeine drink), a short (15 minute) nap while they wait for the caffeine to take effect (usually at least 20 minutes), and a brief walk to freshen up .
- Advise them to avoid eating a heavy meal when stopping at a service station.
- Yes we know it’s obvious, but remind them of the importance of a good night’s sleep. Research by Aviva shows that drivers who only get 5-6 hours sleep the night before driving are 3.3 times more likely to be involved in a crash .
- Plan for breaks: While HGV and coach drivers are legally bound to take a break under current EU legislation for at least 45 minutes after 4.5 hours of driving, van drivers need only take 30 minutes break after 5.5 hours’ driving under UK rules. Ideally, however, try to include 15-minute breaks for your drivers for every two hours of continuous driving when planning their routes and schedules, as recommended by road safety charity Brake .
- Know your tech: Driver distraction and drowsiness recognition systems can detect symptoms of tiredness by monitoring eye movement, including slow eyelid closure and how often a driver is blinking . Some vehicle manufacturers also provide technology that analyses elements of driving style to determine when a driver’s attention is waning.
The latest telematics technology can give you access to real-time driving time information, telling you instantly which driver has enough driving time left to do the next delivery job in time and helping you comply with EU rest period legislation. Find out more.
- Future solutions: High tech car headrests are also currently being tested in both the UK and the US which use electroencephalogram technology and an ‘attention algorithm’ to monitor brain activity in real time. They wake the driver up by shaking either the wheel or seat or giving him an auditory warning.