Long kipper shift? Take a break and react to the signs of fatigue

Even as professional drivers we’ve all been there and felt tired whilst driving at one point or another. What makes us professional though is how you act upon those first initial signs. First thing, stop working. Fatigue is a major contributor to far to many crashes in the UK. Too little sleep radically affects driver attention, awareness, reaction time and their abilities to control the vehicle. One in six serious accidents in the UK are thought to be caused by tiredness at the wheel. Don’t put yourself, your passengers or other road users at risk. There’s always tomorrow to chase that allusive pound note. According to road safety charity brake.org.uk there are many influences when it comes to tiredness and fatigue. They include: 

  • Lack of sleep or disturbed sleep: This could be due to disruptions in life such as a new baby, busy schedules or stress, or could be due to sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, insomnia or sleep apnoea.

  • Time of day: The most common times for drivers with normal sleep patterns to fall asleep at the wheel are early morning (2am-6am) and early afternoon (2pm-4pm). These times are when the body clock reaches a natural dip, causing drowsiness and reduced concentration.

  • Stress: Tiredness and difficulty concentrating are typical symptoms of stress.

  • Irregular sleep patterns: This can be a problem caused by irregular work shifts and switching from day to night shifts without having sufficient time off in between for your body clock to adjust. Research has found shift workers are particularly high risk for sleep-related crashes.

  • Driving for long periods: Research has found driving deteriorates after two hours of continuous driving, as you become less able to concentrate, and slower to react to hazards. The longer you drive, the more rest you need to recover driving performance. Breaks are therefore recommended every two hours.

  • Vehicle engineering: Modern vehicles are usually quiet and comfortable for the driver, meaning a more relaxed drive. This can lull drivers, particularly in vehicles fitted with comfort-enhancing features such as cruise control.

  • Medication: Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause drowsiness and impaired alertness. Medications may carry warnings that are not clear they impair driving, for example small print that only advises not to operate heavy machinery.

brake.org.uk research shows normal sleep does not occur without warning, and most people recognise symptoms but underestimate the dangers of continuing to drive. Any driver, especially professional cabbies, should responsibly react to the first signs of tiredness or fatigue. Warning signs include: increased difficulty concentrating; yawning; heavy eyelids; eyes starting to ‘roll’; and neck muscles relaxing, making the head droop.

A ‘microsleep’ occurs when someone nods off for between two and 30 seconds without realising or remembering it, often known as head-nodding. This occurs when people are tired but trying to stay awake, most common in monotonous situations, like motorway driving at night. A Brake and Direct Line survey found one in three (31%) UK drivers surveyed admit having experienced a microsleep at the wheel. After a microsleep the driver may feel like they’ve just briefly nodded their head, but they have actually been asleep. During this time they will have been completely unaware. In six seconds, a vehicle being driven at 70mph travels about 200 metres, which is enough time to veer across three lanes of traffic or into the central reservation. Simulator studies have shown a clear relationship between microsleeps and crashes. At-work drivers are particularly at risk from tiredness, because they typically spend longer hours at the wheel, with four in ten tiredness-related crashes involved someone driving a commercial vehicle. Male drivers are more involved in sleep-related crashes than females. Drivers under 30 are at higher risk than older drivers, and are most likely to crash due to tiredness in the early morning after little or no sleep.  Many drivers continue to take the risk of driving while tired, probably linked to lack of awareness of the risks. A Brake and Direct Line survey in 2014 found almost half of UK drivers surveyed admit driving after less than five hours’ sleep; this is not enough sleep to prevent fatigue. 

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