How to stay awake when driving long distances

Accidents caused by tiredness behind the wheel are 50 percent more likely to result in death or serious injury. Here's how to stay alert when driving.

How to stay awake behind the wheel

A fifth of road accidents are caused by driver fatigue. So perhaps it’s no surprise that a third of UK drivers are scared of driving in the dark.

According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), tiredness and drowsiness are factors in up to 25 percent of fatal and serious injury accidents.

Just as worrying is the fact that these types of crashes are 50 percent more likely to result in death or serious injury. That’s because because a driver who has fallen asleep cannot take action to reduce the impact.

RoSPA says accidents caused by tired drivers are most likely to happen:

  • On long journeys and on monotonous roads, such as motorways
  • Between 2am and 6am
  • Between 2pm and 4pm (especially after eating or drinking just one alcoholic drink)
  • After a night of interrupted or less sleep
  • After drinking alcohol
  • If taking medicines that can cause drowsiness
  • After working long hours or a night shift

How to spot the signs

Half of van drivers falling asleep at the wheel

It’s important to recognise the signs of tiredness. Failure to do so could result in an accident caused by reduced reaction times, decreased attention levels and an inability to judge risks.

Symptoms include:

  • Yawning or rubbing your eyes
  • Frequent blinking
  • Daydreaming
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven
  • Missing exits or traffic signs
  • Drifting from your lane

How to stay awake when driving

Why sleep is the best prevention for drowsy driving

Not getting behind the wheel when tired is a good place to start, but the following tips will help you stay awake:

  • Prevent tiredness: make sure you get between seven and eight hours of sleep the night before you drive. If you’re regularly feeling tired, even after a full night’s sleep, arrange to see your doctor.
  • Plan ahead: design your journey to allow you to take regular rest breaks, especially if you’re driving during peak tiredness times.
  • Minimise the risk: plan to stop at a motorway services for a quick rest. Arrange to share the driving with a friend or family member. Coffee will help, but it’s NOT a solution to tired driving.
  • Stay cool: excessive use of in-car heating will make you feel sleepy. Keep the car comfortably cool and open the windows to get some fresh air.

Highway Code rule number 91 also states that a minimum break of at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving is recommended.


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Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
Writer with a penchant for #FrenchTat. Also doing a passable impression of Cousin Eddie in an Italian-German beige motorhome.


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