Killer At The Steering Wheel

I am shortly to undertake a long trip, thankfully in a very fine car of which more next week. No doubt, as my passengers go tramping about the countryside I will make my excuses – old football injury, hurt leg thanks to cleaning car etc – and lower the comfy leather seat to take forty winks. This makes sense because driving on our busy roads is more arduous than you think.

Drivers over a certain age will have seen from time to time, as they went about their travels, roadside hoardings that bore the legend ‘Tiredness Can Kill’. We don’t see them so much these days though as they‘ve been replaced by those spiteful, nagging overhead gantries; it’s as if it is a side-issue when there are so many other things for the ‘agencies’ to peck at our heads about.

Sensible people wouldn’t dream of using a hand-held mobile when driving any more than they would consider driving when under the influence of alcohol. So why is that accidents still happen because drivers fall asleep at the wheel? It’s a fact.

At the time of writing this the holiday season is starting to get into full swing. Families will be heading off into the wild blue (we hope) yonder to take spring and summer breaks or maybe go and see the relatives who conveniently live on the coast and who they pretty much ignore for the rest of the year.

For many, these expeditions will be the longest drive of the year and they can often be unprepared for the dangers. For example, although experienced drivers are pretty relaxed there is still a degree of inherent tension in the act of driving. We have to be on the alert at all times, especially these days. This is tiring and yet we just don’t notice it. This weariness can be exacerbated by fractious ankle-biters in the back of the car, especially when it all goes quiet and the tension rises.

According to some research, more than half of drivers ignore the advice to take rest breaks every couple of hours. Perhaps they think that stopping is a bit of a pain as their destination is calling to them. Nine percent don’t stop at all no matter how arduous the trip. Many drivers admit to not ensuring they’ve had a good night’s sleep the night before. Too little sleep (say, less than five hours) and there is very good chance the driver will nod off after a while.

It’s not as if it is much of an imposition. A ‘comfort’ break is usually required for most families – especially with children – and it a golden opportunity to get the head down. Usually, a ten minute nap is very refreshing; provided of course that all the other people in the car keep quiet. Best to send them off to buy ridiculously expensive and nourishment-free, sugar and salt filled sandwiches and some totally pointless crap from the shop.

Needless to say, typically, it is men who are most guilty of this. Female motorists take a much more commonsense view and only 3% of them admit to driving for six hours without a break. This is not a subject that male family members need to bring up to often unless they want the full-blown lecture. Best to just take a break as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

It is amazing how sleep creeps up on drivers. Often there are some signs – yawning, tired eyes and the like but trying to ignore it is a mistake. One minute a driver could be squeezing his eyes, the next he could be slumped at the steering wheel as the car leaves the road.

Obviously it pays to check on parking costs at services and the like. Some only allow a certain amount of free parking before swingeing charges come in that you don’t find out about until later when you get a nasty letter in the post. Make sure somebody watches the time – especially if it is at some of MacDonald’s ‘restaurants’ in the UK, it has recently been revealed. Travel safe this summer.

Geoff Maxted