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Six million motorists almost fell asleep at the wheel last year

8 July 2009

More than six million (13%) British motorists narrowly escaped adding to the thousands of fatigue-related road accidents that occur each year, after admitting they’d fallen into a slumber while driving in the last 12 months.

The research from Kwik-Fit, a partner to the RoadSafe managed ‘Driving for Better Business’ campaign, found that 10% of motorists felt ‘drowsy whilst driving’ and a further 3% said they’d been on the verge of falling asleep behind the wheel.

Sleepiness is proven to reduce the reaction, vigilance, alertness and concentration abilities needed to drive safely. It also impairs the speed at which information is processed and so affects the quality of decision-making. Ultimately it increases a motorist’s chances of having an accident.

Drowsy drivers shouldered most of the responsibility for their tiredness themselves - with 41% blaming the monotony of the journey for their stupor. A further 39% cited a general ‘lack of sleep’ and 32% blamed too few breaks on their journey.

According to the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University driver fatigue causes up to 20% of accidents on ‘monotonous’ roads. Worryingly, with a scorching summer now upon us, 15% of drowsy drivers blamed ‘stifling in car temperatures’ for their fug.

This, says Kwik-Fit, is perhaps not surprising, given that the research also found that 89% of motorists had never had their air conditioning unit recharged. Most manufacturers recommend that - in order to cool the car efficiently - air conditioning units should be recharged every two years.

David White, customer services director at Kwik-Fit, said: “Staying awake while driving is largely a matter of driver discipline. Taking regular breaks, making sure you get enough sleep the night before a long journey and stopping for a sleep if you are tired are all imperative. However our research shows that a fully functioning air conditioning unit might help to prevent you from feeling drowsy in the first place.

“Whilst having a cooler in-car temperature might make you less likely to feel sleepy you should never rely on turning up the air conditioning unit as a ‘wake up call’. There’s only one safe cure if you’re feeling sleepy behind the wheel. Pull over and have a sleep.”