How to tell if you're too tired to drive. Your life depends on it

It's estimated that driver sleepiness is a factor in one-fifth of road crashes in the UK, resulting in around 300 deaths every year. The Highway Code recommends that drivers take at least a 15 minute break after every two hours of driving, but all too often drivers refuse to admit they are tired. Many stubbornly prefer to think that they are fine and perfectly able to concentrate for the remaining journey.

It's crucial that drivers make sure they are alert and as fresh as possible, especially on long journeys such as returning from a holiday. Motorways across the UK now have frequent reminder signs telling drivers 'Don't Drive Tired' and encouraging them to take breaks. However, despite all of this, many drivers still drive when drowsy, determined to reach their destination as soon as possible, regardless of danger.

Look our for the warning signs

How do you monitor just how tired you are? Look out for the warning signs, because the human body has developed a very efficient system to signify impending tiredness and loss of concentration, long before you become drowsy and your vehicle control is impaired.

The first significant biological sign that tiredness or sleepiness is setting in is that the rate at which we blink goes up. A normal blink rate is about 10 blinks per minute (also known as nictating) and any increase in this rate is a notable warning signal that it is time to find an appropriate place to pull over and give yourself a rest from the stress of driving.

Nature's early warning system

An increased blink rate is nature's own built-in early warning system. If you notice you're blinking more often, just head for the nearest motorway service area or other refuge from the road before your driving is in danger of becoming erratic and potentially dangerous.

It is, put simply, a critical element of road safety. Experts advise that people must become much more aware of their blink rate behind the wheel and heed the warning if it begins to rise.

Watch out for other signs of sleepiness

Other physical signs of sleepiness are a nodding head, waves of tiredness and heavy eyelids in addition to the increased blinking. If these symptoms are taking place then you should have already stopped for a break and must pull over immediately in a safe place!

In addition, there are more things that the responsible driver can do to ensure a safe journey and avoid nodding off behind the wheel. For a start, begin your journey well rested. When you know a long journey beckons, make the most of an early night beforehand so you can be at your most alert as you drive away.

And avoid early morning or late night driving whenever possible. These are natural times to feel weary and therefore not appropriate moments to be driving. Similarly after a large meal, when we all tend to feel a little sleepy, it is a bad time to start a long journey.

Take a break

As mentioned previously, a 15 minute break after every 2 hours of driving will help to curb drowsiness and keep drivers awake. If you feel sleepy when you stop then try and use the time to actually nap, but ensure you are fully awake again before resuming your journey.

By taking these straightforward precautions and watching out for the warning signs, drivers can be sure of a safer journey, and entirely more likely to reach their destination trouble-free.

David Williams was awarded the MBE in 1998 for services to Road Safety. He is Chief Executive of GEM Motoring Assist, who offer motor vehicle breakdown cover, including policies for car and caravan recovery.

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