4 Oct 22

Population decline in sleep quality threatens to increase driver fatigue

Are your fleet drivers getting enough sleep?

Nuffield Health recently carried out a survey of 8,000 UK adults and found that almost three quarters (74%) reported a decline in quality sleep over the past 12 months. 1 in 10 people only manage 2-4 hours of sleep a night and 1 in 4 is experiencing insomnia since the global pandemic. The concern is that this could lead to an escalation in driving fatigue.

Driving fatigue can kill. Falling asleep at the wheel is estimated to have caused the deaths of as many as 300 people in a single year in the UK alone, according to research from Hendy Car Store. Drivers are particularly vulnerable to driving fatigue on long journeys during dark winter nights.

Drivers at risk from poor sleep habits

According to Nuffield Health’s research, 35–44-year-olds get the least sleep, with almost 50% only getting 5-6 hours per night. Only 33% get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night. This does not bode well for driver safety.

The AA (Automobile Association) conducted research of over 20,000 drivers to discover how fatigue translates on UK roads. As many as 13% admitted to having fallen asleep at the wheel while driving at some point in their lives. Worryingly, almost 40% said they felt so tired while driving that they wouldn’t be able to stay awake for the whole journey. Reassuringly, however, 57% said they stopped the moment they realised they might be too tired to keep driving. The AA also found that young drivers (18-24) are most likely to succumb to driving fatigue, not because of lack of experience but because of lifestyle choices (late night socialising). Of particular concern is that 18% of young drivers said they would carry on driving even when fatigued.

Slowed reactions and inability to concentrate

The National Sleep Foundation emphasises that driving while sleep deprived can have the same impact on the brain as being over the drink driving limit.

Drivers most at risk of driving fatigue are workers with rotating night shifts and commercial drivers.

There are many causes of driving fatigue, not just late night partying. Medical conditions, particularly undiagnosed sleep disorders (such as sleep apnoea), diabetes and Coeliac disease, for example, plus depression and anxiety, which can have a disrupting affect on sleep patterns, are also causes. Lifestyle choices such as poor diet, lack of sleep, drug and alcohol use and exercising too late can lead to tiredness. But there is also evidence to suggest that a rise in stress, depression and anxiety since the COVID pandemic has occurred leading to a massive decline in sleep quality among the general population.

Although we haven’t looked at EU-specific research, there is no reason to believe the issue is any better across the European Union.

What can (and should) you do to help drivers stay alert?

So, what should fleet managers be doing to address the issue of driving fatigue and mitigate the risk?

Under the EU driving time directive, drivers are restricted to no more than 9 hours driving per day, which can be extended to 10 hours twice a week but this is only applicable to HGV, bus and coach drivers.

If you employ drivers and other mobile workers, you must:

  • keep drivers’ hours records for at least one year
  • make sure they are properly trained and understand the rules
  • organise their time so that they can follow the rules
  • check your drivers’ hours records and data
  • monitor your workers’ working time
  • advise drivers to take regular breaks (30 mins for every 5.5hrs driving and 45 mins for every 8.5hrs of driving)
  • advise drivers to stay hydrated

We all want drivers to be safe and there are certain actions fleet managers can take to assist in that process. Driver monitoring, using in-vehicle cameras and audible prompts is, for sure, one of the best methods of being able to observe the warning signs of driver fatigue and cue a rest break. We can, of course, advise on supportive lifestyle choices but cannot mandate them.

Authored by: Alison Pittaway