4 things you need to know about driving when tired

4 things you need to know about driving when tired

Let’s be honest, we’ve all driven when tired – and we’ve all known that we shouldn’t do it. According to the road safety charity Brake, research suggests that driving tired can be just as dangerous as driving drunk. The vast majority of drivers would be aghast at the thought of knowingly driving drunk – so logically, driving tired should carry exactly the same level of stigma. So if you’re planning to hire a car or van and you know you have a long journey ahead of you, it’s worth taking a second to refamiliarise yourself with the four most essential things you need to know about driving when tired!

How to recognise the signs of fatigue

As a nation, we don’t have a great relationship with sleep. A relative study from Direct Line showed that one in seven people in the UK (about 7.5 million) regularly survive on less than five hours of sleep a night – which is far too little. It follows, then, that lots of us are well-practised at ignoring the most common signs of sleep – even if we’re not consciously aware of it.

It’s all the more important to stay alert for the signs of fatigue when driving – including yawning frequently, heavy eyelids, drifting between lanes, difficulty focusing, and missing exits or traffic signs. If you notice that you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it’s crucial to pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so. Lots of people tend to think that they can hang on just five more minutes – and it’s usually then that there’s a crash!

Understanding the dangers

You already know the overarching danger that fatigue can cause – namely, the rising probability of causing an accident. Let’s get more specific here for a moment though.

Fatigue affects your ability to drive safely in several ways. Firstly, it impairs your reaction time, making it harder to respond quickly to unexpected situations on the road. (That’s one of the most common reasons why it’s often compared to driving drunk, as it’s the most common symptom that both conditions share.)

Secondly, it diminishes your attention and concentration, increasing the likelihood of making critical errors. And, perhaps even more dangerously, it increases the risk of making panicked corrections – such as trying to veer into an almost-missed turning right at the very last second. That can lead to driving into hatched areas, barriers, or even other cars!

Last but certainly not least, fatigue can cause microsleeps, which (in this context) are exactly as scary as they sound. A microsleep is defined as a brief episode of sleep that lasts for a few seconds, during which you are completely unaware of your surroundings. These microsleeps are exceptionally dangerous when driving at high speeds. At 70mph, you’re travelling about 30 metres per second – so even a few seconds of unconsciousness could be more than enough to cause a devastating accident.

Knowing when to take breaks

One of the most effective ways to combat fatigue while driving is, of course, by taking regular breaks. Experts recommend taking a break every two hours or 100 miles of driving, whichever comes first. During these breaks, get out of the car, stretch your legs, and if possible, take a short nap. Even a 15 to 20-minute nap can help refresh your mind and improve your alertness. Commercial drivers have to be particularly alert to the possibility of fatigue, as they can often spend most of the day or night on the road. If you’re a long-haul driver, it’s crucial to know your company’s policy on breaks before you set off, so that you know when you’re expected to take breaks.

Planning your journey ahead of time can also help prevent fatigue. If you’re not a commercial driver, it’s a good idea to try to schedule longer drives during times when you're normally awake and alert, and avoid driving late at night or during the early hours of the morning when your body naturally craves sleep.

Being careful with your coffee

While caffeine can provide a temporary boost in alertness, it's essential to use it strategically when driving. Consuming caffeine in moderation (whether in the form of coffee or caffeine pills) can help improve your concentration and delay the onset of fatigue. It's also worth noting that caffeine takes time to kick in, so consuming it before taking a short nap during a break can maximise its effectiveness.

However, make sure not to fall into that all-too-common trap: it’s no substitute for proper rest! It’s easy to forget that it’s still a drug at the end of the day, and too much caffeine can lead to jitteriness, increased heart rate, and even more significant plunges in energy levels once its effects wear off – which doesn’t address the root issue of fatigue, and therefore isn’t a reliable long-term solution for helping you to maximise your safety on the roads.

At the end of the day, you’re the one who takes ultimate responsibility for your safety on the roads, so we’ll leave you to make the final decisions! As for us, we’ll focus on doing what we do best – providing an extensive fleet of vehicles for hire, including more than 450 cars, vans, and minibuses. We offer both Flexi hire and daily hire options, so you can rent the vehicle for as long or as little as you need! Feel free to contact us at 01254 57811, and we'll be more than happy to help you in any way we can!

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