‘Tiredness can kill’. So the signs at the side of the motorway tell us, and so the evidence confirms.
The latest official statistics reveal that, in 2016, there were 1,645 accidents where the police recorded ‘Fatigue’ as a contributory factor. As our graph shows, 67 people died as a result of those accidents – 4% of all road deaths last year. That makes tiredness a bigger killer than defective brakes or tyres, or even than using a mobile phone while driving.
As many as 400 people killed each year by tiredness
In fact, those numbers above probably drastically underestimate the harm caused by people driving while tired. Police officers may not know that tiredness is a cause in many accidents – especially if the driver is wide awake when they arrive, or if they’ve been killed or knocked unconscious by the accident.
A 1995 study by researchers at Loughborough University estimated that 16-23% of road accidents are sleep-related. That would suggest that tired driving kills around 300-400 people in Britain every year – or perhaps even more, given that these incidents seem to be more likely to be fatal than the average road accident.
That study also identified the time of day when sleep-related accidents are most likely to occur: between 2am and 7am (as you might expect), and between 3pm and 5pm (when humans seem to be naturally predisposed to napping, and when there’s more traffic on the roads anyway). Avoiding long journeys at these times (if you can) is a good way to reduce the chances of being involved in an accident.
Drivers who have a medical condition that causes them to feel especially sleepy during the day must inform the DVLA by filling in form SL1 or SL1V, which are available here. If you suspect you might have an undiagnosed sleep disorder, you should contact your GP.
And, of course, all of us should remember the second half of those motorway signs: ‘Take a break’. Many of us will be driving long distance over the Christmas and New Year period; a 15-minute rest for every two hours really could save your life, or someone else’s.