Driver tiredness is one of the biggest killers on UK roads, particularly on motorways. It causes one in five deaths on trunk roads.

Crashes caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel typically involve vehicles running off the road or into the back of another vehicle. They 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.

If you fall asleep at the wheel you risk killing yourself, your passengers and other innocent victims. An estimated 300 people a year are killed where a driver has fallen asleep at the wheel.

To avoid driving when tired, read the tips below to ensure you have a safe journey.

Before you start your journey

  • Plan your journey to include a 15 minute break for every two hours of driving.
  • Make sure you are fit to drive. Have a good night’s sleep before setting out on a long journey.
  • Remember the risks if you have to get up unusually early to start your trip, or have a long drive home after a full day at work.
  • Avoid making long trips between midnight and 6am and 2pm-4pm when natural alertness is low.
  • Even a small amount of alcohol, some medicines and drugs can make you drowsy and you’re in danger of falling asleep at the wheel.

When you are on your journey

  • Take a 15 minute break for every two hours of driving.
  • Share the driving if possible.
  • If you start to feel sleepy find a safe place to stop (not the hard shoulder of a motorway) as soon as possible.
  • Ideally you need a proper sleep but an effective emergency countermeasure to help you get to a safe place where you can get proper sleep, is the combination of two cups of strong coffee or high caffeine drink and a nap. Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to take effect. This is time for a short nap. This countermeasure should allow you to continue driving, but only for a short time. If you still feel tired, you should not continue your journey.

Don’t leave it until it is too late

Difficulty keeping your eyes open, your head nodding and your vehicle drifting out of its lane are not warning signs of tiredness; they are symptoms of a microsleep. You need to stop long before you get to this point. A more reliable way to recognise tiredness is repeated yawning. When this starts you will need to get off the road and find somewhere to sleep properly.

A caffeine drink and a 20 minute nap is a short-term solution only. It should not be repeated over a long period.