Driving while tired: The risks and how to avoid it

We’re all aware of the risks of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But did you know that driving whilst tired is just as dangerous?

Just like alcohol, tiredness affects your reaction times, alertness and decision-making abilities, making you more likely to crash. In fact, our recent study found that one in seven UK drivers (that’s around 5 million of us) have had an accident or near miss on the road due to tiredness. 

And yet many still choose to ignore or don’t believe the serious effects fatigue has on our ability to drive. Our study also found that:

  • Nearly half of drivers (48%) admit to driving on less than five hours’ sleep
  • Over one in five (21%) fail to take breaks every two hours while driving
  • Almost one in ten (9%) think they’re safe to drive when tired, so long as they’ve had a coffee or an energy drink

What to do if you feel tired at the wheel

If you feel yourself getting drowsy while driving, you must pull over as soon as it’s safe to do so. 

Signs of driver fatigue to watch out for include:

  • Excessive yawning or blinking
  • Struggling to keep your eyes on the road
  • Not remembering the last few miles you’ve driven
  • Hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road 

No doubt you’ve heard that things like opening windows, turning up the radio or switching on your car’s air conditioning can perk you up. 

But the truth is, while these hacks might work initially, they won’t stop you feeling tired. For your own and other people’s safety, you should stop, take a 15-20 minute nap and try to grab a coffee before getting back on the road.

If you’re on the motorway, pull up at the nearest service station. Or, if that’s too far away, leave at the next exit and find somewhere safe to stop. 

Over a quarter of Brits (27%) believe that, if you’re feeling tired on the motorway, you should pull up on the hard shoulder. But it’s one of the most dangerous places to stop. According to National Highways England, one in 14 deaths on motorways happen there. 

How to avoid tiredness on long drives

Driving even short distances while tired is dangerous. But chances are that you’re more likely to feel tired or notice your concentration dipping on a long journey. So if you know you have a long drive coming up, it pays to prepare. 

  1. Get plenty of rest beforehand. 

Try and get into a good sleeping pattern at least a couple of weeks ahead of the drive. That means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. 

  1. Plan breaks.

If the drive is more than three hours long, factor in stops along the way. According to the Highway Code, you should aim to take at least a 15 minute break every two hours.

  1. Don’t drive for more than eight hours per day.

If you need to, plan an overnight stay somewhere to get a full night’s rest and break up the journey. 

  1. Don’t drive when you’d usually be asleep. 

Try to avoid driving in the early hours of the morning or very late at night, when you’d usually be in bed. If you must drive at these times, make sure you’ve had plenty of rest beforehand.

  1. Check any medication you’re taking.

Drowsiness is a possible side effect of many common prescription and over-the-counter medications. If you start taking a new medication, you should always consult with your doctor, read the leaflet and see how the medication affects you before deciding if you’re safe to drive.

  1. If possible, don’t drive alone. 

Ideally, bring someone with you who can share the driving duties. Just make sure they’re insured to drive your car too. You might want to add them to your car insurance policy as an additional driver


Research conducted by Opinium among a nationally representative panel of 2,000 UK adults between 23rd- 27th February.


0 people found this article helpful

Live chat

We’re online between 9am and 6pm, Monday to Saturday.


We’re online between 9am and 6pm, Monday to Saturday.