According to charity Brake and Cambridge Weight Plan, it only takes seconds of sleep behind the wheel to cause a fatal crash. Research out by Brake and Cambridge Weight Plan reveals one in eight drivers has 'head-nodded' at the wheel in the past year. Head-nodding occurs when someone nods off to between two and 30 seconds, often without realising that they have been asleep. 
The survey of 1,000 drivers also revealed risky behaviour among many that can contribute to tiredness, with one in four admitting embarking on a journey when they already felt drowsy. The vast majority 86% are also failing to follow best practice advice on dealing with tiredness at the wheel, by stopping somewhere safe for a nap. More than a quarter 29% put their own and others' lives on the line by continuing their journey after they notice the first signs of drowsiness. 

In addition, one in seven drivers surveyed 13% reported suffering from a health condition such as sleep apnoea that makes them tired during the day. Sleep apnoea can cause daytime sleepiness, and in some cases can cause the sufferer to fall asleep without warning.
Brake will present the research results at a Parliamentary reception on July 13, attended by MPs, fleet and road safety professionals and civil servants. At the reception, Brake and families bereaved through tired driving crashes will call on the government to renew efforts to raise awareness of driver tiredness as a major cause of death and serious injury, and improve motorway facilities so that responsible drivers are able to stop when they need to.  
Julie Townsend, Brake's campaigns director, said: "Tiredness at the wheel kills. Driving a vehicle is a huge responsibility that must be taken seriously. That means stopping when we feel drowsy and certainly never starting a journey tired. It's a matter of life and death. We still have widespread misunderstanding of how to prevent driver tiredness, and ignorance about factors like sleep apnoea, a condition that can be treated. These messages still need to get through to the public, which is why we are calling for renewed efforts from the government to tackle this issue urgently."
Professor Tony Leeds, Medical Director, Cambridge Weight Plan, said: "Driver tiredness can have devastating results, but it is avoidable if drivers follow road safety and medical advice. I urge drivers to manage their sleep needs: make sure you get sufficient rest each night, and stop and rest if you feel sleepy at the wheel. If you often feel tired, there might be an underlying medical problem, so you should seek appropriate professional advice. A common cause of tiredness is obstructive sleep apnoea, which is more common among commercial drivers, and is linked to greater risk of crashing. Sleep apnoea is linked to body mass index, so overweight drivers should be particularly alert to the possibility of suffering from this disorder, but aware that it is treatable."
Experts estimate that tired drivers cause one in five fatal crashes on motorways and other monotonous trunk roads. Crashes caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel tend to be high-speed crashes, because drivers do not brake before crashing, so the risk of death or serious injury occurring is greater than in other types of crashes. 
Brake and Cambridge Weight Plan's survey reveals that youth and gender are both factors in the prevalence of tired driving. Young drivers are more likely to drive tired and more likely to nod off at the wheel. One in four 18 - 24 year olds have head-nodded in the past year and more than half 55% admit setting off on a journey when already drowsy. 50% more male drivers admit to setting off on a drive when they feel tired and more than twice as many males admit to head-nodding as females. 
 
Government action required:

 

Brake's Wake up! campaign calls for the following action to prevent and detect tired driving; and to stop deaths caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel.
 
·  Run widespread educational campaigns warning of the dangers of driving tired, stating what drivers can do to prevent tired driving crashes, and raising awareness about sleep disorders such as Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. Campaigns should target at-risk groups such as young drivers, commercial drivers and males.
·  Require the National Institute for Clinical Excellence to publish clinical guidelines on the management of sleep apnoea and similar disorders to aid doctors in diagnosing and treating the disorder.
·  Introduce regular screening of drivers, particularly people who drive for work, for sleep apnoea, a medical condition that makes falling asleep at the wheel much more likely.
·  Make traffic policing a national policing priority, and ensure there are more patrols to spot and stop weaving vehicles driven by tired drivers.
·  Introduce better and longer safety barriers to minimise the consequences of crashes caused by tired drivers on motorway and trunk roads.
·  Audit rest areas on motorways and trunk roads, to ensure they provide adequate provision for our road network, enabling drivers to always find somewhere to stop and rest.
·  Extend rules controlling hours that can be driven legally by large vehicle drivers to fleet drivers in vans and cars, and encourage companies to use trains more instead of cars for long distance journeys.  


Posted: 09.57, 28.7.11, rachael.haydon@pavpub.com