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November 26, 2019

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Driver safety

How to tackle driver fatigue

With the clocks having gone back and the days shortening it is often this time of year when attention turns to driver fatigue. Sleep is not a process we can fight, according to Marcus de Guingand from Third Pillar of Health.

driver fatigue

It is estimated that fatigue is a factor in 20% of accidents on UK roads however, when the public is asked to name their top five road risks, it barely gets a mention. Fatigue-related accidents also tend to be more severe because someone who has fallen asleep at the wheel has no time to take any corrective action to minimise the potential effects.

Sleep is not a process we can fight. We will go through several indicators that we are at risk of falling asleep at the wheel – commonly called a microsleep. These can last a fraction of a second up to two to three seconds. At 56 miles per hour your vehicle will travel 25 metres per second and you will have no control over the vehicle. Remember you have no control over when your need for sleep manifests in this way. Perhaps you get lucky and your incident happens on a straight, quiet country road. What if you are not so lucky and it happens on a motorway when traffic is rapidly coming to a halt up ahead, or worse still outside a school or busy pedestrian area. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Employers and individuals need to give serious consideration to driver fatigue. The repercussions and costs are potentially severe. There needs to be a zero tolerance approach to driver fatigue. Drivers also need to be given help and education on how to identify the signs and effective countermeasures to combat fatigue. The company also needs to have clear policies and procedures and a fair culture that aims to help drivers and not punish them.

Signs of driver fatigue

  • Frequent yawning;
  • Eyelids drooping / feeling heavy;
  • Not remembering the last few miles driven;
  • Frequently hitting the rumble strips;
  • Nodding head and possibly jerking awake.

Too often we may try to combat driver fatigue by: winding down the window, turning up the music, changing lanes more frequently, adjusting the seat so it’s uncomfortable, stopping for a quick walk or to splash cold water over our face. The problem is in laboratory test none of these countermeasures were proven to be effective.

How to tackle driver fatigue

So what countermeasures are effective? We’ll start with the best first:

  • Ensure you obtain sufficient good quality sleep prior to a journey;
  • Avoid driving in the early morning (especially between 2am and 6am) when our alertness is naturally at its lowest;
  • Take a nap before you set off;
  • Change drivers – assuming you have a 2nd driver and providing they’re awake;
  • Drink a caffeinated drink and immediately have a 15 to 20 minute nap;
  • Pull over to a roadside hotel or somewhere safe and secure to have a longer sleep.

Driving whilst tired is simply too risky from a safety, financial and legal perspective. Don’t turn a blind eye to this common problem. It doesn’t have to be exhaustively expensive to start to tackle.


Marcus will be discussing how sleep and fatigue can affect driver safety on the next Barbour EHS webinar, which takes place on Thursday 28 November, from 11:00am to 12:00pm.

It focuses on what is considered to be the most dangerous task most people will ever undertake whilst at work, driving. Click below to find out more.

Driving for Better Safety - Free eBook download

With employees who drive for business more likely to be killed at work than deep sea divers or coal miners, driver safety is a vital business consideration.

Download this eBook from Driving for Better Business and SHP to cover:

  • The danger of the roads;
  • Comparing road safety in the UK to the rest of Europe;
  • Decreasing risk: Avoiding accidents;
  • Road safety best practice;
  • What is fleet risk?
  • Managing work-related road safety.
Driver Safety eBook cover

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