Although research is not yet conclusive it has not yet been contradicted in studies that the reason, we yawn is to regulate our brain temperature. And our brains get hotter apparently when we are tired or unstimulated – hence the yawning when tired or bored.  

Which is why the letter Y in our series on safer driving is for Yawning – or driving whilst tired. According to Brake, the road safety charity, research shows that driving whilst tired can be as dangerous as drink driving, with an estimated 10-20% of all accidents worldwide being fatigue related. Drink driving is widely accepted as dangerous but driving whilst tired is too often a risk that is ignored. 

So, what are the warning signs of tiredness and what can we do to manage them? 

  • Yawning 
  • Finding it harder to concentrate on what you are doing 
  • Heavy eyelids 
  • A nodding head 
  • Eyes starting to roll  

Not surprisingly those that drive for work are more at risk of experiencing tiredness behind the wheel, as are males and those under 30 – with the early mornings being the most likely time to crash after little or no sleep. 

There are rules and regulations for those that drive professionally for the amount of time they are allowed to be behind the wheel in total in a day and before breaks are required. 

To brush up on these, check out the brilliant new resource by Driving for Better Business and the Van Driver Toolkit which explains exactly what you should know. But for those of us who don’t drive for work, what should we be considering? 

You should be planning a long drive in advance, so you minimize the risk of tiredness: 

  • Take regular breaks during your journey, if driving for more than 3 hours, take regular 15-minute breaks 
  • Aim to stop every couple of hours 
  • Don’t drive for more than 8 hours in any one day 
  • Make sure you plan your journey so you know where you can stop for a break 
  • Don’t even start a long journey if you are already tired.

If whilst on the road you do experience tiredness, this is what you should do: 

  • At the first sign of tiredness, pull over and take a break 
  • Do not stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway though, find somewhere safe to pull off 
  • Drink a caffeinated beverage, either 2 cups of coffee or similar 
  • Take a nap of around 15-20 minutes.

None of us should underestimate the dangers of driving whilst tired. “Microsleeps”, when someone nods off for between 2-30 seconds are more common than maybe we would like. (a Brake and Direct Line study found that a third of drivers surveyed admitted to having a microsleep at the wheel). If you were to microsleep at 70mph on a motorway you could travel 200 meters without realizing it, in just 6 seconds that is enough time to veer across three lanes of traffic or into the central reservation.