Driver Fatigue: The Causes and How to Beat It

5 min read

Last Modified 19 December 2022 First Added 19 December 2018

By Liam Porter

With increasing work schedules and more cars on the road than ever, driver fatigue is a huge concern. As one of the leading causes of accidents and crashes, it’s never been more important to make sure you do everything possible to ensure you are driving safely. Read on for information about what causes you to drive tired and the best methods to stay awake at the wheel.

What is driver fatigue?

Put simply, the term driver fatigue refers to drivers operating vehicles when they are too tired to do so safely. When tired, our reaction times are significantly reduced, decision-making is worsened, and our ability to judge speed and distance diminishes.

Fatigue definition: Extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.

driver fatigue

Why is driver fatigue a problem?

According to a report by the Department for Transport, driver error and poor reactions are the most common causes of road traffic accidents. Fatigue dramatically increases the chance of error, and therefore plays a role in these statistics.

The same report broke down driver error into categories and how many accidents they cause:

  • Failed to look properly: 44% of accidents
  • Failed to judge another driver’s speed: 22% of accidents
  • Careless or reckless driving: 18% of accidents

Another report by the Department for Transport identifies that fatigue increases a driver’s frequency of errors, the amplitude of errors, and the variability of errors. Considering that driver error is the leading factor for 80% of all accidents, and that fatigue increases its likelihood, it’s incredibly important to consider whether you are too tired to drive.

What are the most common times for driver fatigue?

Driver fatigue is most common between the hours of 2 am and 6 am, and 2 pm and 4 pm. At these times, our bodies naturally slow down, causing both our reaction times and ability to make decisions decrease. Young drivers are most likely to fall asleep at the wheel in the early of the hours of the morning, while for the elderly, early afternoon is the most common.

But of course, tiredness can be experienced at any time. And while there are numerous ways to prevent fatigue, the golden rule is making sure you get enough sleep.

What causes tiredness?

Most causes of fatigue are obvious and centred around a lack of sleep. They include: being kept awake by a young child, late nights, and working too many hours. But other factors can cause tiredness, such as medical conditions and lifestyle.

Medical conditions:

There are medical conditions, both physical and psychological which can increase the likelihood of fatigue. These include:

  • Anaemia
  • Underactive Thyroid
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Pregnancy
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Emotional Shock
  • Medicinal side effects


Your habits and how you choose to live your life also play a role in how tired you feel. This includes:

  • Poor diet
  • Alcohol
  • Lack of exercise
  • Caffeine
  • Night shifts
  • Daytime naps
  • Poor sleeping habits

Disclaimer: We do not aim to provide any medical advice. If you think you may be suffering from fatigue for any of the above reasons or because of persistent fatigue, speak to your GP. This information is taken from the NHS and is to be used at your discretion.

How to prevent fatigue:

It’ll come as no surprise that the best ways to beat fatigue are linked directly to the lifestyle causes of fatigue mentioned in the previous section. Unfortunately, there are no cheats to beating tiredness – for example, boosting your energy with caffeine will ultimately leave you worse off, especially over long distances. Of course, it can provide a short-term boost but its use needs to be considered a last resort.

In the long-term, what’s most important is keeping as regular a sleeping pattern as possible, ensuring you get at least 7 hours per night. For those working night shifts, you still need the same amount, just catered around your work.

Read more: How to Avoid The Worst Sleeping Habits

Of course, there may be times where you need short-term solutions to driver fatigue. And while the biggest recommendation is to regulate your sleeping pattern, there are some smaller changes you can put in place to help you beat tiredness when driving.

  • Eat smaller yet more consistent meals to keep your energy levels high.
  • Find a safe space to pull over and take a quick nap if you find yourself nodding off.
  • Take 15-minute breaks every two hours on long journeys.
  • Have plenty of snacks and water to hand.
  • Keep the car cool, either with air conditioning or an open window.
  • Pull over and go for a quick walk.

Remember, if symptoms persist always consult your GP.

Having other issues with your sleep? Visit our Sleep Problems section for help and advice.


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