HGV Heroes: Roadchef highlights the importance of taking a break

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For those of us that spend most of our lives on the motorway network, the impact of COVID-19 could not be clearer. Our sites have never seen so few motorists, but the majority of those still on the roads are working around the clock, to ensure consumers can still buy everything they need and to ensure our amazing NHS has access to vital medicines and PPE. The HGV community is providing an essential service to so many.

These HGV Heroes have risen to the challenge to keep supply chains moving – the fact that most grocery stores have been stocked throughout this crisis is a measure of their success. But in order to do this, the Department of Transport has extended drivers’ daily limit from 9 to 11 hours. Imagine spending half the day on the road, every day, knowing what you are transporting could mean a vulnerable family receives food tomorrow – the pressure is immense.

With that pressure comes the inevitable fatigue of being on the motorway for such a long period of time. Most of us will associate fatigue with tiredness or weakness. It is not unusual to feel these effects, and most of the UK population will have experienced physical or mental fatigue at some point in their lives.

Although it can be caused by specific health problems, most instances of fatigue are linked to a lack of sleep, i.e. not taking time to rest. And when you are on the road trying to get somewhere quickly, particularly when your cargo is so vitally important, the urge to try and ‘push through’ can be tempting. 

Our research shows that more than a third of all drivers (37%) have been so tired behind the wheel that they have been scared they would fall asleep when driving [1]. Frighteningly, with the total number of UK licence holders at 33.6 million [2], this means some 12 million people could have been on the roads while being dangerously fatigued. Although drivers will acknowledge they are affected by fatigue, few do anything about it.

What’s becoming clear is that the COVID-19 situation is not going to disappear overnight, there will be more weeks of these longer, stressful hours for HGV drivers, hauling essential items across the country. And there will be many occasions when tiredness sets in, reaction times become slower, and attention and awareness start to wane. Regrettably, as drivers continue to spend such long periods on the road, they will become more fatigued and that could lead to serious crashes and the potential closure of motorways, which would be disastrous for supply chains, not to mention the NHS.

Fortunately, Brake has some excellent advice for drivers that start feeling fatigued, which I would urge all road users – not just HGV drivers – to adhere by during and after these difficult times:

  • If tiredness kicks in it is important to stop and rest as soon as possible
  • Drink a caffeinated beverage – coffee or an energy drink
  • Take a short nap of around 15-20 minutes

Motorway service areas remain open to provide safety and respite during long journeys. My team at Roadchef has sought ways to ease the burden on HGV drivers, by offering longer periods of free parking, which has now doubled to four hours. We also offer low 24h HGV parking rates, clean showers and toilet facilities, and newly installed microwaves for heating food. We recognise we have an important role to play and are striving to give HGV drivers the best break possible, despite us not being able to open all of our catering outlets at present. We’re also trialling a hot food offer at a couple of our locations, to ascertain if there is a demand for this from the key workers using our motorway network and to also ensure a wider, national rollout would not jeopardise social distancing for our team members.

We wholeheartedly support the incredible work of the HGV community, not just now but all year round. And I’m pleased they are getting the recognition they deserve for keeping the country moving. Over the coming weeks and months, we hope many will choose to take a break at the UK’s 100+ motorway service areas to ensure their own safety. Why? Because their safety and wellbeing is invaluable to each and every one of us.

Roadchef has partnered with Brake to remind motorists that taking regular rest stops is a life-saving measure.

[1] AA Charitable Trust (2018), AA-Populus 11-17 September 2018, online poll of 20,561 drivers

[2] National Travel Survey Factsheets

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Saturday, 31 October 2020

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