According to Professor Jim Horne of Loughborough University's Sleep
Research Centre, more people are killed on our roads due to
sleepiness than through drinking and driving.
Not surprisingly monotonous roads such as motorways are often the
problem areas, and because of the high speeds involved the
consequences are often serious. Whilst bus, truck and coach drivers
are strictly monitored, drivers and riders are particularly at risk
because there are no rules which regulate the amount we can drive.
Part of the problem is that the body has natural biorhythms and is
programmed to fall asleep at certain times. Not surprisingly the
highest risk time is between 2am and 6am, but fewer people are aware
there is a similar period between 12am and 4pm, which is made worse
if you have had a heavy meal or if you are an older driver.
Shiftworkers are particularly at risk because their sleep patterns
Simulator research shows a driver will often start to feel sleepy
around 40 minutes before the real problems occur, but typically they
drive through this stage rather than pull over and take a break.
Many drivers realise they are getting drowsy, but do not realise how
badly they are driving, and try to push on - often the end of their
journey is only a few miles ahead - and deliberately take a chance.
Witnesses to accidents involving a dozing driver often report that
the vehicle was being driven erratically before the accident
Many drivers try to overcome tiredness by opening the windows or
turning the stereo up loud but every moment you spend on the road
when you are sleepy is a moment too long.
Tips to avoid drowsiness:
plan your journey and factor in time to take a
break - 15 minutes in every two hours is recommended
if you start to feel sleepy take a minimum of a
half hour break
avoid heavy meals during breaks
tea and coffee will give you a temporary lift but
if necessary have a snooze
if you start to feel sleepy, stop as soon as it
is safe. If you are on the motorway, don't push on to the next
service area, pull off at the next exit!
if you can't stop immediately (for instance you
are between junctions on the motorway) get some fresh air - open the
windows or lift the visor - it may help a little
if you start to doze off, stop, even on the
motorway! The hard shoulder is for emergency use and in my opinion
this is an emergency! This may be against the strict police
interpretation of the rules for use of the hard shoulder so get
out/off and kick the tyres or something - even five minutes will
wake you up enough to get safely to the next exit
And finally, just in case you think you can't fall asleep on a bike,
you can! It happened to me years ago when I was a courier.
It was a hot summer's day, around 3 in the afternoon. I'd been
riding since about 9am with just a couple of short breaks and had
just passed the last exit before a 20 mile stretch of the M26/M25
where there is no exit, when I started to feel really sleepy. I knew
I was riding badly - I suddenly found myself about 5m behind a lorry
but I lifted the visor, started singing and generally made the
mistake of trying to push on to the next exit (because you're not
supposed to stop on the hard shoulder except in an emergency).
Bad move... about 5 minutes later I suddenly found myself riding
diagonally across the hard shoulder with the left hand indicator on,
heading for a grass embankment. The weird thing was I could remember
a little dream of seeing the exit ahead. I stopped, got off the
bike, took my helmet off, walked around and jumped up and down a bit
and got back on the bike, road to the next exit and had a kip for 30
minutes... after that I was fine, and the parcel made it to its
destination, albeit a few minutes late...
Postscript to this story
I posted this story to a motorcycling group elsewhere. To my
surprise, few of the replies took the danger of drowsiness whilst
riding at face value and considered it as a real (or even potential)
problem. Most came up with a "I get tired but I continue to
ride/drive whilst singing/looking around/jumping up and down and
that works for me" rationale or as one experienced rider claimed, he
could tell non-dangerous tiredness from dangerous tiredness.
The interesting thing is that the report highlighted that people do
not see driving whilst tired as a high risk activity, and I'm very
surprised to see that this group of people, who are otherwise very
safety conscious, are actually responding in exactly the way the
report predicted. Clearly because they have driven many times whilst
tired and have got away with it, they dismiss the dangers as
negligible, despite solid evidence to the contrary.
It seems to me that despite the evidence that these folk remedies
don't work, this is the same "I can handle it" attitude that drink
drivers habitually use to excuse their behaviour... until the day
they fail to handle it. I guess we need a lot of educating before we
believe the dangers of our behaviour.