Fatigue effects similar to drink driving

12.00 | 6 December 2013 | | 3 comments

It is common for people in the UK to drive with levels of fatigue that are associated with loss of ability similar to, and sometimes beyond what is seen at the legal alcohol limit for driving, according to fatigue and transport expert Dr Robert Hunter. 

Speaking at the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety’s (PACTS) annual Westminster Lecture, Dr Hunter highlighted the everyday risks road users face from fatigue and driving.

Dr Hunter, who is head of flight safety at the British Air Line Pilots Association and recently gave evidence to the Transport Select Committee’s flight time limitations inquiry, said: “We have a complacent attitude to fatigue risks.

“Sleep deprivation is now so common in our society that feeling ‘tired all the time’ has become normal and many do not appreciate the risk at which they are putting themselves and others when driving in such a state.

“In addition to the loss of ability that comes with fatigue, a particular risk is involuntary sleep and the way in which we can have little insight at the point at which it can happen.

“Drivers who are killed by falling asleep at the wheel, just before their deaths, most likely feel very tired but think that they will probably be fine.”

Dr Hunter’s lecture covered the dangers of fatigue in the transport sector, how it can be measured and managed. He focused mainly on aviation and road transport but also touched on maritime, rail and even walking and cycling. 

The lecture looked at the question of how tired is too tired to safely fly a plane, drive a car, ride a bicycle, or even be a pedestrian in an urban environment.

The 24th Westminster Lecture on Transport Safety and 3rd UN Decade of Action Lecture took place in London on Wednesday 4 December 2013.


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    I understand that when drivers are in a semi-sleep condition they find it easier to follow (that is drive along) the solid edge line than stay between two lines. Clearly this is safe right up until there is a vehicle on the hard shoulder, or the hard shoulder ends. This was one of the reasons for the invention of “vibro-line”. All of the above may be apocrophal or true!

    Mark, Caerphilly
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    Never been on the motorway and the HGV in front is all over the road? One would think with tachometers and driver’s hours that wouldn’t happen…. but it does. I wonder just how many accidents involving HGVs have a causation of asleep at the wheel?

    I am also aware as a motorcyclist that too many miles on two wheels is not a good thing. Riding a bike takes a lot more concentration than that of a car and that causes tiredness which leads to a fall in concentration and mistakes and on a bike that can be fatal. But riders still push the limits. The only time they find out what their limit is, it’s too late.

    bob craven Lancs
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    Excellent. It is about time (well overdue actually) that the subject of driving whilst (over) tired had a good airing.

    Pat, Wales
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