No matter what, operating a vehicle demands total concentration and focus at all times, and since emergencies can never be predicted, drivers must always be alert, vigilant and completely focussed on the road without distraction.
Following recent research from IAM RoadSmart, a concerning trend amongst commercial drivers shows finds that 10% of drivers had momentarily closed their eyes because they were so tired behind the wheel. 10% also admitted that they had been suddenly shocked after hitting the rumble strip, 40% had turned down heating or opened windows to keep them awake.
Further to this, the road safety charity, Brake, outline that tiredness is a major factor in causing many road traffic accidents, with their study highlighting that about 40% of tiredness-related accidents involve commercial drivers.
So what exactly is it that makes tired driving so dangerous?
The signs are there
Many motorists may already be familiar with the motorway signs stating “Tiredness can kill, take a break”, alongside the recent increase in electronic motorway signage encouraging drivers “Don’t drive tired.”
According to Motorway Services Online, these signs are usually placed two miles before a service area to remind drivers to take a break without encouraging them to stop somewhere unsuitable. Though there are some exceptions such as the M5 which has them in several places simply because the road is dull.
But the main reason for these signs on motorway stretches is simply because road accidents caused by tiredness tend to involve high speed crashes because when a driver falls asleep behind the wheel, they can’t brake to avoid impact. In other words, the more tired a driver feels, the longer it will take them to react to a situation.
Tachographs are there to ensure commercial drivers aren’t overworked
For both HGV drivers and O-licence operators, a lack of knowledge about tachograph rules is unlikely to be sufficient as an excuse for non-compliance.
The current rules state that as weekly maximum for commercial drivers, driving time cannot total any more than 56 hours, and a driver must take at least 45 minutes of breaks every 4.5 hours of driving, unless they take a rest period.
For fleet operators, it’s absolutely essential that they follow these regulations, as tachograph infringements can result in punishments such as monetary fines or even imprisonment, with the punishment depending on the severity of the breach. What’s more, VOSA can investigate up to 6 months of tachograph logs for driver hours offences, with no time limit for investigations into tachograph falsification.
However, the most important reason for adhering to tachograph regulations is simply to ensure that drivers are safe and competent behind the wheel. After all, commercial drivers are known to work long hours with flexible sleeping patterns, therefore it’s their employer’s duty of care to ensure they have adequate rest periods and never driver past their allotted hours. The results of not meeting these requirements could be catastrophic if an accident were to occur due to breaks being missed.
Distracted vs. tired driving
Distracted driving describes any situation where a driver’s attention isn’t fully focused on the road and the safe operation of their vehicle.
There are 3 main types of distracted driving, but they all result in a major safety threat not only to drivers, but to everyone who shares the road with them too. These 3 types are:
- Manual distractions: which cause drivers to take either one or both hands off the wheel to manipulate an object not directly related to the safe operation of their vehicle. For example, eating or drinking whilst driving.
- Visual distractions: which are anything that causes drivers to move their eyes away from the road or their driving instruments, like reading driving directions or looking at their phone.
- Cognitive distractions: which divert a drivers’ mental focus away from the road, such as talking on the phone while driving (even with a hands-free device), driving while emotionally distressed, daydreaming or driving whilst tired.
The government are hot on driving whilst tired
Updated in April 2022, the UK government published the latest edition of their DVLA ‘Tiredness can kill: advice for drivers’ factsheet, asserting that there is no excuse for falling asleep at the wheel and it’s not an excuse in law.
The factsheet highlights that up to one 1/5 accidents on UK motorways and may be caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel, however modern lifestyles which include early morning or late night starts, often lead to excessive tiredness for drivers behind the wheel due to unfamiliar body rhythms producing a natural increased tendency to sleep, particularly between the hours of midnight to 6am and 2pm to 4pm.
UK law also states that drivers could also face a driving ban and up to 14 years in prison from driving whilst tired. And if this wasn’t damaging enough for fleet operators, since distracted driving is linked to other poor driving behaviours such as harsh braking and speeding, it can often lead to wasted fuel and higher risk of mechanical problems resulting from those behaviours. This means additional costs for repairs and more chance of recovery needed.
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