Manufacturers assist drivers to battle drowsiness
Driver fatigue is a serious problem resulting in many thousands of road accidents each year.
According to RoSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, it is not possible to accurately calculate the exact number of sleep related accidents, but research shows that driver fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents, and up to 25% of fatal and serious accidents.
Studies also indicate that 20% of accidents on motorways in the UK are caused by sleepiness, while more than 300 people a year are killed, and many more seriously injured, as a result of drivers falling asleep at the wheel.
What causes fatigue related crashes?
Thousands of crashes are caused by tired drivers. They are most likely, says RoSPA, to happen:
- on long journeys on monotonous roads, such as motorways
- between 2am and 6am
- between 2pm and 4pm (especially after eating, or taking even one alcoholic drink)
- after having less sleep than normal
- after drinking alcohol
- if taking medicines that cause drowsiness
- after long working hours or on journeys home after long shifts, especially night shifts.
What can companies do?
As part of recruitment, training and staff appraisal, RoSPA says that drivers and their line managers should be reminded about the danger of falling asleep at the wheel and the need for safe journey planning, including the need to get adequate sleep before starting to drive.
Drivers should also be made aware of the dangers of ‘moonlighting’ or spending too long on evening hobbies, social activities or domestic work that limit sleeping time.
And they should also be familiar with the early signs of fatigue and what to do if they begin to feel tired during a journey – that is, take a break every two hours for up to 20 minutes and drink caffeinated drinks where appropriate.
Company policy should also dictate how to organise shifts and workloads to reduce the risk of driving tired, while the organisation’s policy on what staff should do if they feel fatigued before or whilst driving should be readily available.
Where employees have to travel a long distance to a work location at the beginning of the day or if the journey is likely to take more than two hours, companies should consider asking staff to travel the night before and stay overnight.
Similarly, at the end of a work period at a remote location, employers should make provision for employees to stay overnight so that they do not have to drive a long distance home when tired.
What are vehicle manufacturers doing to help tackle driver fatigue?
Many vehicle makers have recognised the importance of staying alert behind the wheel, and have introduced driver alert systems to help drivers overcome tiredness.
As a result, an entirely new class of vehicle technologies called ‘driver assists’ are widely available across many vehicle manufacturers’ product ranges, both mainstream and prestige and on some of even the more basic models.
Driver assists work by giving the driver a warning about potential hazards or by controlling the car’s systems for fractions of seconds in emergencies, the same way electronic stability control (ESC) systems help with vehicle stability.
Some driver assists also help with parking, enhance roadway vision or help keep the driver’s hands on the wheel through a series of audible and visual alarms.
What are typical driver assist systems?
Some of the latest driver assist systems use radar, sensors and cameras to detect objects and give drivers an audible, visual or vibrating warning.
Amongst the most commonly available is the Forward Collision Warning system which detects other vehicles in front of your vehicle and gives an alert if your vehicle is closing in too quickly on the vehicles ahead.
Blind Spot Monitoring, meanwhile, detects other vehicles in your vehicle’s blind spot and audibly warns the driver that another vehicle is in the lane beside them.
Lane Departure Warning, on the other hand, detects lane markings on a roadway and notifies the driver if they drift out of their lane. This is especially useful for tired drivers on busy roads whose attention may be starting to wander.
And Drowsy Driver Warning uses sophisticated algorithms to analyze steering, braking and throttle inputs and alerts the driver if he or she may be showing signs of fatigue.
Such systems are now commonly available in many ranges of vehicles and across a large array of models, not just the most expensive.
What should drivers do?
It’s all very well having the latest technological aids to help prevent tiredness and reduce accidents, but the best solution for tired drivers is not to put themselves in a situation of risk in the first place.
A useful tool is a journey planner as advocated by RoSPA, which takes drivers through a series of checks and balances to ensure the right decision is taken.
The first check is to ask whether you actually have to drive. If not, then consider the alternatives including remote communications or going by rail, air, bus or coach – it’s safer than risking driving whilst tired and can reduce CO2.
If you absolutely must drive, then carefully plan the journey:
- Share the driving if possible
- Ensure your vehicle is in a safe condition
- Make sure you are not impaired by alcohol or drugs
- Make sure you will be well rested
- Book an overnight stop if necessary
- Avoid driving in peak sleepiness periods
Plan the route
At the same time, the route should be carefully planned taking into account the following factors:
- Avoid driving when you would normally be asleep
- Plan where to take rest breaks – at least every two hours
- Plan where to stop for the night if necessary
- Check for delays – plan alternative routes
During the journey
There are a number of things you can do to keep alert during the journey itself:
- Take rest breaks as planned
- Listen to traffic news for possible delays
- Concentrate on your driving
However, if you do start to feel tired:
- Find somewhere safe to stop
- Take two strong caffeine drinks
- Nap for about 15 minutes
- If you are still too tired to continue, then find somewhere safe to stop for the night.
Check out CLM’s series of driving guides for further helpful information – click here to view the available resources