Banish drowsy driving when you’re on the road

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Sleep plays a crucial role in our physical and mental health. But if you work as a professional driver it could literally be a question of life or death.

To drive safely, it’s vital to be able to make good decisions on the road. Tiredness will make it harder for you to recognise hazards, as well as slowing down reaction times and generally impairing your judgement.

You needn’t be travelling long distances to be affected. Drowsy driving is just as dangerous on short journeys. According to the latest figures, driver fatigue may be the main cause of over 20% of road deaths. And around 40% of sleep-related accidents involve commercial vehicles.

So if you work as an HGV/LGV driver, here’s what you need to know.

Plan your journey

The best advice is to plan your journey so you don’t drive when you’re tired.

As a professional driver, you’ll already know that under UK law you should only drive for a certain amount of hours before taking a break (you can find comprehensive information on drivers’ hours here).

At HR GO our driver training programme covers all aspects of driving for work safely, including the importance of staying fit and alert behind the wheel.

Recognise when it’s time to pull over

The smart advice is to not drive when you’re tired. But if you are in that situation, heavy eyelids and repeated yawning are the obvious signs you should pull over and rest. Watch for these red flags, too:

  • You’re blinking repeatedly
  • Your mind is wandering more than usual
  • You’ve missed traffic signs
  • You can’t remember the last few turns you’ve made
  • You’ve hit more than one rumble strip on the hard shoulder in the last few minutes
  • You feel irritable

If you realise that fatigue has hit, it’s crucial to find somewhere safe to stop, have a few cups of coffee and a nap.

Be night aware

Thanks to our biological clocks, we’re naturally sleepier at night than during the day.

So it’s no surprise that most fatigue-related driving accidents happen at nighttime during normal sleeping hours. Research by the US-based research charity AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety pinpoints a spike in drowsy-driving crashes between midnight and 6am.

Driving at night has another downside - the dark makes surroundings less stimulating and there’s less to keep you alert and engaged.

As a professional driver, you’ll probably find yourself driving at night at some stage of your career. But if you struggle with shifts in the dark, think about switching to only day driving. Similarly, if you’re used to driving at night and are finding that driving early in the morning or evening is causing you problems, then you may be better switching to only night driving.

It’s key to find a pattern that works for you so that you can function properly and without tiredness when you drive. At HR GO Driving, we know how important it is for each professional driver we work with to find the shift pattern that suits them best.

If in doubt, get checked out

Even if you’re doing everything you can to get enough sleep, there are medical factors that can cause fatigue and tiredness - which are obviously bad news if you’re in charge of an HGV.

Certain medications can cause problems staying alert, so you should make sure your GP is aware of your job before they prescribe anything.

Also, disorders like sleep apnoea can disturb your sleep to the extent that you’ll wake up feeling exhausted even after a full night’s shut-eye. Drivers who suffer from a sleep disorder are up to 15 times more likely to have a driving accident, so it’s crucial to get checked out - and take action.

The message is simple: Don’t get behind the wheel of an HGV knowing you may be risking not just your life but also someone else’s.

Find out more about becoming a qualified lorry driver with HR GO here. 

ROSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) has produced a free ‘Safer journey planner’ for anyone who drives for work. You can find it here.

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