The results of a new study of 1000 drivers by the road safety charity Brake and Cambridge Weight Plan shows that one in eight drivers have nodded off at the wheel. They also found that one in seven (13%) of drivers suffer from sleep apnoea.
Julie Townsend, Brake’s campaigns director, said: “Tiredness at the wheel kills. Driving a vehicle is a huge responsibility that must be taken seriously. That means stopping when we feel drowsy and certainly never starting a journey tired. It’s a matter of life and death. We still have widespread misunderstanding of how to prevent driver tiredness, and ignorance about factors like sleep apnoea, a condition that can be treated. These messages still need to get through to the public, which is why we are calling for renewed efforts from the Government to tackle this issue urgently.”
Professor Tony Leeds, Medical Director, Cambridge Weight Plan, said: “Driver tiredness can have devastating results, but it is avoidable if drivers follow road safety and medical advice. I urge drivers to manage their sleep needs: make sure you get sufficient rest each night, and stop and rest if you feel sleepy at the wheel. If you often feel tired, there might be an underlying medical problem, so you should seek appropriate professional advice. A common cause of tiredness is obstructive sleep apnoea, which is more common among commercial drivers, and is linked to greater risk of crashing. Sleep apnoea is linked to body mass index, so overweight drivers should be particularly alert to the possibility of suffering from this disorder, but aware that it is treatable.”
I have long been calling for companies to test their drivers for sleep apnoea as a matter of routine. The test is simple and effective, and treatment is free on the NHS so will cost companies nothing to resolve, and will saving lives. With the Corporate Manslaughter Act now in force companies can and will be held legally responsible for failing to protect their employees, so there is every reason for employers of commercial drivers to act on this now.