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Why You Should Avoid Driving When Tired

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It’s easy to forget just how much concentration and energy is required to drive safely. Even if you’ve been driving for years and you’re confident behind the wheel, the level of focus you need to keep a car on the straight and narrow – particularly on winding B-roads or in busy traffic – can be immense.

When it comes to driving while tired, you have to consider the impact that a lack of sleep can have on other tasks. For example, you’d probably stand a much better chance of completing a crossword in the middle of the day when your brain is performing well than if you tried to do it at four in the morning after just a few hours’ sleep.

Driving is no different – if you’re sleep-deprived, your ability to pilot your vehicle safely is severely impacted. In fact, some studies have found drowsy driving to be just as dangerous as being drunk at the wheel.

The dangers of driving when tired

While driving tired isn’t an offence in itself, the DVLA strongly advises against doing it. The reason for this advice is clear: it’s extremely dangerous. If you kill a pedestrian or fellow motorist and it’s determined that you were driving when tired, you could be charged with the offence of causing death by dangerous driving. This carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), driver fatigue is a contributing factor in up to 20% of the UK’s road traffic accidents. That percentage rises to 25% when it comes to serious and fatal accidents, demonstrating just how risky drowsy driving can be.

The organisation contends that accidents caused by a lack of sleep are ‘about 50% more likely’ to result in death or serious injury. The reason? A driver who’s fallen asleep at the wheel has no hope of braking or swerving to avoid the collision, meaning the impact speeds tend to be higher.

Even if you don’t fall asleep at the wheel, if you’re driving tired your reaction time will be impaired, your awareness of potential hazards will suffer and your ability to concentrate will be affected. This is certainly not an ideal combination: your ability to make snap decisions (the kind you need to make to avoid a car accident) just won’t be as good as it normally is. No amount of energy drinks and cool blasts of air from an open window will fix that, either – the only lasting solution is to get some sleep.

What to do if you’re feeling tired behind the wheel?

If you’ve read the Highway Code, you might be familiar with Rule 91, which relates specifically to driving when tired. It advises motorists to assess their condition carefully before embarking on a journey – and not to get behind the wheel for an extended period of time without a good night’s sleep.

Even if you slept well the previous night and are feeling good, natural alertness is at its lowest between 12am and 6am. With that in mind, the DVSA advises against driving during these hours if possible.

It also recommends taking 15-minute breaks every two hours under normal circumstances, but if you’re feeling tired the advice is clear: find a safe place to stop and rest. No, this doesn’t mean pulling onto the hard shoulder – that is exclusively for emergency use. Instead of letting your drowsiness consume you totally, pull over and have a break when you start to feel weary. The more tired you get, the more severely your driving will be impacted.

Either find a safe spot away from the motorway or dual carriageway to have a nap or, if you’re near your destination and just need a quick boost, pull into a service station to grab some coffee. This is only going to keep you going for so long, though, so if you’ve still got a long journey ahead of you, it’s best to get some shut-eye.

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