Minimise driver fatigue

Fatigue is one of the biggest killers on the UK’s roads and , according to the Department for Transport, fleet drivers fall asleep at the wheel more often than private car drivers and are more likely to be involved in road traffic accidents.

Facts

  • 35% of motorists who travel long distances have fallen asleep at the wheel compared to 14% of all drivers (4)
  • About 300 people are killed each year as a result of drivers falling asleep at the wheel (1)
  • Up to 20% of accidents on motorways and other monotonous roads may be caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel (2)
  • For car drivers, fatigue may be the principal factor in as many as 10% of all accidents (1)
  • If driving on a motorway at 70mph, nodding off for just 6 seconds would result in a car travelling 200 metres (1)
  • Fatigue-related crashes are more likely to result in a fatality than serious personal injury (5)
  • Fatigue-related crashes are more common when a driver is on a trip away from home and travelling on high speed limit roads (5)
  • Fatigue warning signs include increased difficulty concentrating; yawning; heavy eyelids; eyes starting to ‘roll’; and neck muscles relaxing, making the head droop (5)

After only 5 hours sleep a driver only has a 10% chance of staying fully awake on a lengthy journey (3).

The issue

Too little sleep radically affects an individual’s ability to drive; safely with driver reactions are much slower, the ability to concentrate is reduced and it takes longer to interpret and understand the traffic situation (8). The most common effects of fatigue on actual driving behaviour (8) include:

  • Difficulty in keeping the car within a lane
  • Drifting off the road
  • More frequent and unnecessary changes in speed; and
  • Not reacting in time to avoid a dangerous situation e.g. braking or manoueuvring

These failures lead to a high number of single vehicle crashes involving the car striking a tree or other rigid object, and severe head-on collisions.

Crashes tend to be relatively high-speed crashes, because drivers do not brake before crashing, so the risk of death or serious injury occurring is greater than in other types of crashes (1)

Many factors can contribute to driver tiredness and increase a driver’s risk of being involved in a tiredness-related crash.

The most common times for drivers (with normal sleep patterns) to fall asleep are early morning (midnight-6am) and early afternoon (2pm-4pm) when the body clock ‘dips’ or after a heavy meal.

Tiredness is a typical symptom of stress brought on due to work or home life pressures e.g. insufficient rest periods due to long working hours or a long commute to work.

Other causes of driver tiredness can be disturbed sleep caused by a baby, stress or domestic problems; sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnoea; irregular sleep patterns perhaps if working shifts without having sufficient time off in between for the body clock to adjust; or a course of medication.

With today’s vehicles quieter and more comfortable than they used to be, employees might be more relaxed when driving which can lead to tiredness. As well as this, driving can have a lulling effect, particularly in vehicles fitted with comfort-enhancing features, such as cruise control (5).

Drivers should also allow for unexpected hold-ups, such as congestion, which can mean a journey takes far longer than expected, leading to tiredness and the temptation to speed. Employees running late for a scheduled appointment should, therefore, rearrange for another time, rather than ‘press on’ without taking regular rest breaks.

Drivers involved in a crash and found to be driving when tired could be charged with:

  • careless driving - when driving has fallen below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver
  • dangerous driving -when driving has fallen far below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver. The maximum penalty for death by dangerous driving is 14 years in prison.

The Health and Safety Executive’s ‘Driving at Work: Managing work-related road safety’ guidance (8) makes clear that drivers should be made aware of the dangers of fatigue and what action to take if they start to feel sleepy.

The document also urges employers to make sure that work schedules are realistic taking account of road types, conditions and rest breaks and to take sufficient account of periods during the day when drivers are most likely to feel sleepy.

Additionally, the advice makes clear the company policy should not put drivers under pressure and encourage them to take unnecessary risks - such as by speeding - to meet agreed appointments or schedule times.

How ProFleet2 can help

ProFleet2 can help fleet managers monitor journey habits to ensure drivers are taking regular breaks and not putting themselves or other road users at risk, allowing them to take corrective action before it’s too late.

At the same time employees who think they are driving for longer than they should be are advised to speak to their employer, who have responsibilities under road traffic and health and safety law which mean that they should not set unrealistic schedules and must not put employees at risk through work-related activities Company car and van drivers should take a 15-minute break every 2 hours (3).

With journey data provided by ProFleet2 Fleet Managers can effectively manage their occupational road risk strategy and, as a result, could save the life of at least one of your drivers and reduce the risk of road traffic and health and safety offences being committed by drivers and the company. Journey data, as standard, includes :

  • The time of the day when employees are driving
  • The length of time spent behind the wheel
  • How long an employee has been driving without a break
  • The number of miles driven

Information sources

  1. Department for Transport, www.thinkroadsafety.gov.uk
  2. Driving for Better Business, http://www.drivingforbetterbusiness.com/toolkit/sleep-disorders.aspx
  3. Highway Code, http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Highwaycode/DG_069889
  4. Brake, http://www.brake.org.uk
  5. Loughborough University Sleep Research Centre, www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/hu/groups/sleep
  6. Road Safety UK, www.roadsafetyuk.co.uk/drvfatig.htm
  7. RoSPA - http://www.rospa.com/roadsafety/info/fatigue.pdf
  8. ‘Driving at Work: Managing work-related road safety’, http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg382.pdf
  9. Transport Accident Commission Victoria, http://www.tacsafety.com.au/upload/Fatigue_Case_Study.pdf
  10. BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/1754336.stm