The impact of driving when you are tired

Many motorists will admit to driving when tired. This might have been after a long day in the office, after a bad night’s sleep, or maybe driving back from the airport after a restless flight.
Sometimes, the monotony of motorway driving is enough to make you feel drowsy. And while we’re all aware of the risks of driving while distracted or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it can be just as dangerous to get behind the wheel tired.

The stats

The AA explains how driving tired can have fatal consequences. It shared some concerning statistics from its 2018 #drowsydriver campaign:

  • 13% of UK drivers said they’ve fallen asleep at the wheel.
  • 37% admit to feeling so tired that they have been scared they would fall asleep.
  • Men are more than three times more likely than women to say that they have drifted off while driving (17% vs. 5%)
The same AA blog explained how one in five accidents on major roads in the UK are caused by tiredness – a figure too high to ignore.

To back this up, research shared by road safety charity Brake found that one in six crashes resulting in death or injury of major roads are related to fatigue. Peak times for these incidents are between the hours of 2am-6am and 2pm-4pm. In fact, drivers on the road at 6am are 20 times more likely to fall asleep at the wheel than those on the road at 10am.

Tiredness: the impact on your driving

Feeling tired can impact your ability to drive in a number of ways:

  •  It can slow your reaction time to potential hazards, or cause you to miss them altogether, increasing the chance of being involved in an accident.
  • It can cause you to drift within your lane or into different lanes – only for you to realise when you drive over the rumble strip or another driver beeps at you.
  • You may find it difficult to maintain a consistent speed, slowing down and speeding up for no reason.
  • You might miss vital information on signs (for instance, exits on motorways) causing you to panic or make potentially risky manoeuvres.
  • You could feel more compelled to pull risky manoeuvres if it means you get home faster.
Obviously, any of these scenarios can put you and other road users at risk, as they increase the chance of you being involved in an accident. 

‘No excuse’ for falling asleep at the wheel

As the ‘Tiredness can kill’ booklet from the DVLA notes, there is simply no excuse for falling asleep at the wheel because all drivers have some degree of warning.

Lack of sleep and the time of day are just two of the many factors that can contribute to driver tiredness. Some of the other factors shared by Brake include:

  • Stress – Symptoms of stress include tiredness and the inability to concentrate.
  • Driving for long periods – Studies show that your ability to drive worsens after two hours of non-stop driving, because you become less able to concentrate and have slower reaction times.
  • Vehicle set-up – Modern, quiet and comfortable cars fitted with features like cruise control can make drivers feel more relaxed and therefore sleepy.
  • Medication – There are many types of medication that can cause drowsiness and impact a driver’s alertness on the road.
Certain medical conditions can affect your ability to drive, too. As the Gov.UK website explains, you need to tell the DVLA if you are sleeping during the time you’d usually be awake due to a medical condition.
You can be fined up to £1,000 if you don’t let the DVLA know. You could also be prosecuted if you’re involved in an accident as a result.

While the very act of driving while tired isn’t an offence, you could be charged with other offences such as careless or dangerous driving.

Feel sleepy? STOP

If you start feeling tired but you’re near your destination, it can be tempting to continue driving. But it’s simply not worth the risk – a lot could happen in those few miles you have left on your journey. Some tell-tale signs you’re sleepy are:

  • You find it difficult focusing.
  • Your eyelids are heavy.
  • You’re yawning a lot.
  • You’ve got trouble remembering the last couple of miles.
  • You’ve caught yourself drifting into other lanes.
  • You’ve missed signs and hazards.
  • You feel irritable and restless.
The golden rule is this: if you start to feel tired, stop as soon as it’s safe to do so – not on a hard shoulder.

The AA then advises that you drink two cups of coffee or an equivalent caffeinated drink, and take a brief nap of around 15-20 minutes.

Caffeine takes around this amount of time to have an effect, so you should feel more energised to continue driving when you wake up.

Of course, this is only a short-term solution and it’s likely you’ll feel tired again after the caffeine wears off. So you should only really drive for a short period of time after your coffee and nap.

Some ways you can prevent yourself from feeling tired while driving include:

  • Making sure you get the recommended eight hours of sleep before a long trip.
  • Stopping regularly on long and/or monotonous journeys to break up the drive, stretch your legs and get some fresh air (and maybe a coffee!).
  • Avoiding driving at peak ‘tiredness times’ unless you absolutely have to.
  •  Taking in turns with your partner to drive on long journeys (so long as they’re insured to drive your car).
  • Avoiding alcohol – drink-driving is obviously an offence, but even just one small alcoholic drink could cause you to feel drowsy behind the wheel.
  • Planning routes in advance so that you don’t end up detouring and driving for longer than you absolutely need to.
  • Not eating really heavy meals just before you drive, as this can make you feel sleepy.

Convicted driver insurance from the Insurance Factory

If your drowsiness at the wheel has led to you receiving a driving offence in the past, then you may have found it difficult to get competitively-priced insurance.
At the Insurance Factory, we specialise in helping motorists with convictions on their driving record get back behind the wheel with as little fuss as possible. The convicted driver insurance policies we can arrange, are packed with the same benefits and features as standard car insurance policies, and we are able to consider a range of offences including:

  • Driving without insurance.
  • Driving/attempting to drive while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Exceeding the speed limit on the motorway.
  • Reckless driving.
  • Driving at a dangerous speed or in a dangerous manner.
  • Non-motoring convictions.
Get back on the road with convicted driver insurance from the Insurance Factory. Get a competitive quote today!