It is important to know the facts about driving tired, there is much more to fatigue than instantly nodding off at the wheel. Fatigue can affect your driving skills long before you are in danger of falling asleep. Although falling asleep is a form of fatigue, it is the most extreme form, which only occurs after many other – easily recognisable – symptoms have shown themselves.
Looking at how we function, it is a general fact that our brains have a built in body clock, coordinating circadian rhythms which are daily cycles. Our body clock will cause us to experience two spells of extreme fatigue one between 3am and 5am and another dip in alertness between 2pm and 4pm. This means these two times of day are often when we will experience our worst mental and physical performance. It will come as no surprise that there is an increase in fatigue related road accidents around these times of the day.
Fatigue can affect you in many ways, the first and most obvious sign is lack of ability to concentrate and focus on things that are happening around you, you will find it takes you much longer to get to grips with information which you would probably understand immediately if you were fully alert. For example, you may find yourself just staring at a hazard ahead or a road sign without being able to figure out the message it is offering which may cause you to be unable to react promptly.
Another thing you may notice – especially if you’re travelling on a long, boring motorway journey – you may find it hard to stay within the road markings in the lane you’re using or you may be drifting into another lane. You may at times also notice yourself fidgeting in your seat or attempting to wake yourself up a bit. It’s also a common trait with tired drivers to change their speed more regularly and for no reason, even though you may think you are travelling at a constant speed.
As a result, fatigue is thought to be the cause of a big number of single vehicle collisions involving a tree or other fixed objects, and more worryingly, head on collisions. Research has found that fatigue has been involved in between 10% and 25% of all road accidents and is responsible for about 20% of serious crashes on motorways.
A particularly dangerous combination with fatigue is driving when under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol affects your alertness when driving long before you reach the legal limit. Even a small amount of alcohol combined with fatigue could affect your driving skills. Driving at high speeds when tired is also a big risk as a fatigued driver will have slower reactions, therefore, needing more time to react to situations or events ahead. Higher speeds mean you will have much less time to react.
It is important to make sure you are well rested if you are planning a long journey. Make sure as soon as you recognise any symptoms of fatigue you stop driving.
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