General Insurance Article - Quarter of fatal crashes due to falling asleep at the wheel

One in eight (13%) UK drivers admit falling asleep at the wheel, according to new research by the AA Charitable Trust. And nearly two fifths (37%) say they have been so tired they have been scared they would fall asleep when driving.

 If a drowsy driver causes a collision the brunt of repair and injury costs to third parties would fall on their insurer which, for life-changing injuries could run to a seven-figure sum. Such collisions are often especially serious because a driver who has dozed off wouldn’t use the brakes or take other evasive action before crashing.

 Drivers involved in a crash because they fell asleep are likely to be prosecuted and, if someone is killed, the prosecution will be for causing death by dangerous or careless driving. Apart from loss of licence, heavy fines and possible custodial sentence, drivers would find extreme difficulty and high cost of obtaining car insurance in the future – quite apart from having to live with the consequences of having dozed off at the wheel.

 The latest road casualty statistics show drowsy drivers contributed to 53 fatal and 351 serious crashes in 2017.

 Based on Department for Transport figures, the cost of these crashes amounts to about £175.5m3. However, it is widely accepted the true figure for fatigue-related crashes is much higher due to under-reporting. In fact, it is estimated that up to 25% of fatal accidents are caused by drivers who have fallen asleep at the wheel4. Statistically crashes due to drowsy driving are most likely on monotonous dual carriageway roads or motorways and in the small hours of the morning5.

 The research has been launched today (02/11) as part of a nationwide campaign to alert drivers to the dangers of drowsy driving.

 Men are three times as likely as women to say they have fallen asleep at the wheel (17% compared with 5%).

 And young drivers, aged 18-to-24, are the most likely to say being very tired does not affect their driving ability (13% compared to 2% of all drivers). They are also the most likely age group to say they normally carry on regardless if they feel tired while driving (18% compared to 3% of all drivers).

 Drivers who have been affected by tiredness say:
 • Over half (57%) stopped for a break as soon as they realised they might be too tired to drive (just 34% of 18-24-year olds said this)
 • A third (36%) said they felt fine when they started their journey and their drowsiness took them by surprise (higher among young drivers at 45% for 18-24-year-olds)
 • One in ten (11%) knew they were tired when they began their journey (29% of 18-24-year olds; 15% of women and 9% of men)
 • More than a fifth (23%) said they had been driving for more than two hours without a break when they were affected by tiredness (25% of men and 19% of women)
 The top five reasons for driving tired are6:
 1. A long/hard day at work (39%)
 2. Monotony of the journey (33%)
 3. Late night driving (27%)
 4. Trying to cover too much distance in one day (27%)
 5. Lack of sleep the night before (26%)

 The AA Charitable Trust is calling on drivers to be alert to fatigue, reminding them that if they find themselves winding down the window or turning up the radio that these are a symptom of tiredness – and not an effective remedy. Drivers doing these things need to take it as a sign they are too tired and need to stop at the next safe place; have two cups of coffee (or equivalent caffeinated drink) and nap for around 15 minutes.

 Research shows 17% of visitors say they felt tired when arriving at a motorway service station, but this fell to 11% on exit.

 The campaign features a thought-provoking advert, created by adam&eveDDB, designed to wake drivers up to the dangers of fatigue. The ad shows a driver on a monotonous stretch of road at night. Various relaxation techniques are applied to him by a team of masseurs in a surreal representation of how tiredness can ambush drivers. The ending snaps back to reality with a wide shot of the car, the driver asleep, no masseurs inside, veering to one side over the crest of a hill with oncoming headlights. The payoff reads:

 Don’t let tiredness creep up on you.
 Stop. Take a break.

 The FIA Foundation part-funded the ad and, with the AA Trust, has highlighted the dangers of tired drivers in the 3,500 Lives poster campaign8, featuring French football star Antoine Griezmann advising ‘Stop when you’re tired’. Drivers are warned that, globally, tiredness related collisions are three times more likely to be fatal.

 Edmund King, AA Charitable Trust director, said: “One quarter of fatal crashes are sleep related so drowsiness is one of the most under-estimated risks on the roads. Tiredness is a fact of life at some point for most of us and it is crucial we know how to manage it in relation to driving.

 “Crashes involving a drowsy driver tend to be catastrophic. If a driver has fallen asleep at the wheel they do not brake before an impact and make no attempt to steer away from a collision.

 “A driver who nods off for just three or four seconds on a motorway would have covered the length of a football pitch with closed eyes. A 30 second nap while travelling at 60mph covers half a mile; a terrifying thought.

 “Simple measures can help alleviate the risks. Awareness of the problem is the first step, which is why we have launched this campaign and created an advert highlighting the dangers.

 “Winding down the window, singing and turning up the radio are not remedies to tiredness – rather a symptom in themselves.

 “If you feel tiredness creeping up on you when driving then stop and take a break.”

 Dr Katharina Lederle, sleep expert at Somnia and author of Sleep Sense, said: “The simple truth is the only long-term cure for sleepiness is sleep and drivers are not able to fight it off by opening the window or turning up the radio.

 “Drinking caffeine and having a short nap before the caffeine effect kicks in - about 20 minutes - is a short-term solution. It can help drivers increase their alertness sufficiently to carry on driving for another hour or two. But this is no substitute for proper sleep.

 “There are certain times of day when the risk of driver fatigue is highest, specifically between 2am and 6am and 2pm and 4pm, when the internal body clock is promoting sleepiness.

 “Of course the amount of sleep any individual has had will also affect their susceptibility to fatigue.

 “Young drivers may also be more at risk as their need for sleep can be greater and lifestyle factors, such as excessive screen-time in evenings, irregular sleep patterns and consumption of stimulants can have a negative impact on sleep quality.”

 Mind the gap: The AA Trust and AA Routeplanner have also researched the provision of service areas on motorways to highlight gaps with no place to stop.

 The top 10 stretches of motorway that would most benefit from additional services9 are:
 1. M25 Maple Cross Hertfordshire, NW London
 2. M6 Rugby Warwickshire
 3. M1 Leeds Skelton Lake, Yorkshire
 4. A1(M) Ripon North Yorkshire
 5. M3 Basingstoke North Hampshire
 6. M42 Solihull West Midlands
 7. M90 Forth Road Bridge East Central Scotland
 8. M11 Duxford Area Cambridgeshire
 9. M27 Fareham South East Hampshire
 10. M20 Wrotham Kent

 The maximum suggested distance between services is 28 miles yet there are still many longer stretches:
 1. A1(M) Wetherby (LS22 5GT) to Scotch Corner (Jct 53) (DL10 6PQ) – 42m
 2. M8/M90 Heart of Scotland (ML7 5TT) to Kinross – 39.5m
 3. M3/M27 Winchester (SO21 1PP) to Cosham (GU51 1AA) – 31m
 4. Northern Ireland M1 Dungannon (BT71 6HJ) to Lisburn (BT27 5SG) = 30 miles

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