Articles Tagged ‘impairment - Brake the road safety charity’

Department for Transport policy meeting, 9 January 2008

Cathy Keeler, Brake’s Head of Campaigns met Road Safety Minister Jim Fitzpatrick MP on 9 January 2008.

20mph limits and safety zones

The first issue discussed was the need for a default 20mph limit in built-up areas, with 20mph safety zones outside schools and in residential areas where children are likely to be out on foot and bicycles. These are key demands of Brake’s Watch Out, There’s A Kid About! campaign.

Cathy outlined the difficulties facing many communities struggling to get lower limits and other essential measures put in place to protect kids outside their schools and homes. Brake’s mascot, Zak the zebra, is working with some of these communities to highlight dangers on local roads and lobby for lower limits. Finding funding for safety measures such as 20mph limits and traffic-calming measures is a regular problem, but a few councils have also cited Government guidelines as a barrier to reducing limits in some locations where speeds are not already low.

Cathy pointed out that the Government does not monitor implementation of its guidelines on setting speed limits and there is no information collected centrally on how many 20mph limits and safety zones are in place. Similarly, there is no central information collected on whether local authorities have implemented Department for Transport (DfT) guidance on child road safety audits. These issues were highlighted by recent Department for Transport answers to Parliamentary Questions asked by MPs Mark Hunter and John Leech in October 2007 and January 2008. This means that the Government cannot analyse to what extent its guidance is being followed by local authorities or whether it is effectively improving safety.

Jim said that DfT had identified the gap in knowledge highlighted by the Parliamentary Questions and was at the early stages of planning research on the number of 20mph speed limits and safety zones in England and Wales. He invited Brake to contribute ideas for other local authority-led road safety measures that could be analysed as part of the same research and Cathy suggested: identifying how many schools have 20mph limits outside them; how many sites in England and Wales have variable 20mph limits (as have already been implemented outside the majority of schools in Scotland); and child road safety audits.

Young drivers

Cathy urged Jim to ensure that the long-promised consultation paper on the learning to drive process included the option of introducing a system of graduated driver licensing, with a minimum learning to drive period and restrictions on driving in particularly risky situations for novice drivers, as recommended by Parliament’s Transport Select Committee.

Jim said that DfT was open to all suggestions on this issue. It was still finalising the consultation paper and he hoped it would be published in February or March.

Reporting of at-work road crashes

Cathy raised concerns about under-reporting of at-work crashes, in particular when they involve cars or vans rather than commercial vehicles. Mike Fawcett, DfT’s head of road user safety policy said DfT was aware of the concern, but did not envisage changing the form used by police before the next scheduled review date. Cathy suggested further guidance for police officers using the forms could help improve the quality of data recorded.

Driver impairment

Mobile phones - Cathy flagged up research published by the University of Utah, showing that hands-free kits slow reaction and braking times. She urged Jim to review the evidence for banning hands-free mobile phones while driving.

Drink-driving - Cathy asked when the promised consultation on drink-driving would be published and whether it would be encouraging views on the current drink-drive limit. Jim responded that there was as yet no date for publication. He did not rule out the possibility of introducing a lower drink-drive limit, but said that DfT was of the view that the biggest potential road safety gains could come from improved enforcement of the limit.

Post-2010 strategy and targets

Cathy said Brake had been pleased to hear Jim stating in speeches that even one death on the road is one too many. She encouraged DfT to adopt an overarching ‘vision’ along these lines, similar to the Vision Zero approach adopted in Sweden. Jim said that DfT would be seeking the views of Brake and other stakeholders on developing a post-2010 road safety strategy and casualty reduction targets during 2008.

Driver advice: fatigue

Sharpthumb

Drivers can pledge to – take regular breaks and never drive tired.

Everyone can pledge to – look out for friends and loved ones by ensuring they only drive if they're fit for it.

WakeUp-TirednessKillsDriving tired is lethal. Research found that a quarter of all crashes on British roads involving death or serious injury were sleep-related [1]. Nodding off at the wheel, even for a few seconds, can result in catastrophic crashes, because you don’t brake before impact. And you don’t have to actually fall asleep to put yourself and others at risk: tiredness increases reaction times and affects your ability to pay attention. But there are some simple steps all drivers can take to avoid fatigue.

Plan ahead

tired1Consider whether you need to drive. Public transport is often a better option for long journeys, and is likely to mean you arrive feeling more rested and refreshed than if you’ve been driving for hours – see our advice page and factsheets on sustainable travel.

If you have to drive, plan ahead so you are well-rested beforehand and never embark on a journey when you’re already feeling tired. If you know you have to drive the next day, especially a longer journey, make sure you get a good night’s sleep. The less sleep you get, the less chance you have of staying awake. When planning a long journey, allow time for regular breaks – at least 15 minutes at least every two hours – although you need to stop as soon as possible if you start to feel tired (see below).

If you’re driving somewhere relatively far away and coming back again, book an overnight stay in the middle if you can and ensure you’re well rested before heading home.

Avoid driving at times of day when you’re most susceptible to tiredness, like at night, in the evening after a long day, or in the mid-afternoon, when most people experience a ‘dip’.

If you drive for work

Insist on having time in your schedule for regular break periods to rest – 15 minutes every two hours is safest – and look at whether there are alternatives to driving, such as video conferencing or taking public transport to appointments.

If you drive a truck or bus, be aware of legislation covering the hours you are allowed to drive, and make sure you take the required rest breaks. Even if you fall behind schedule or get caught in traffic, always take your breaks. Safety comes before deadlines. Your employer should have a policy on driver tiredness that complies with health and safety laws and makes clear that safety is the priority. When you’re driving on company time, you and your employer have responsibility for making sure you’re not endangering yourself and others.

Brake advises companies on preventing fatigue and other issues to do with at-work road safety. Find out more at www.brakepro.org.    

If you feel tired

If you’re feeling tired at the wheel, you need to listen to the warning signs straight away and pull over somewhere safe as soon as you possibly can. Do not fool yourself that you can fight off sleep – it ensues much faster than you might think. Winding down the window or turning up your music does not help you to stay awake. If you ever head nod, you have already been asleep briefly, although you may not remember it, and these ‘microsleeps’ are enough to cause a devastating crash.

tired2Hence if you feel tired while driving, it’s vital to pull up somewhere safe and have a nap. Having a caffeinated drink (an energy drink is better than coffee as it’s a more reliable source of a reasonable dose of caffeine) followed by a 15 minute nap can help to temporarily stave off tiredness, but bear in mind this is only a temporary aid.

If you are still feeling tired after your nap, or you still have a long way to go, you need to stop and get a proper night’s sleep, which is the only solution to tiredness. Whatever you do, only continue your journey when you’re feeling fully refreshed.

Sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea is a relatively common, but often undiagnosed condition that puts sufferers at great risk of tiredness crashes. Sufferers briefly stop breathing repeatedly while they are asleep. While the sleeper may not realise it, this interrupts their sleep and results in daytime sleepiness, which can result in falling asleep at the wheel. Signs of sleep apnoea include loud snoring, disturbed sleep, regularly waking up coughing, fighting for breath during sleep, and falling asleep in the daytime. The highest-risk group for sleep apnoea are overweight middle-aged men, although it can affect other groups too.

See our fact page on sleep apnoea. If you think there is a chance you have sleep apnoea, seek medical advice. Sleep apnoea is treatable, and if left untreated can increase the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks, as well as driver fatigue crashes. The sooner you see a doctor, the better

[1] Sleep-Related Crashes on Sections of Different Road Types in the UK (1995–2001), Department for Transport, 2004

Page updated June 2015

Driver fatigue

Key facts

  • One study found one in six crashes resulting in death or injury on major roads are fatigue-related [1];
  • Peak times for fatigue-related crashes are within the hours of 02.00-06.00 and 14.00-16.00 when drivers are naturally more sleepy; [2]
  • Drivers at 6am are 20 times more likely to fall asleep at the wheel than at 10am; [3]
  • About 40% of fatigue-related crashes involve commercial vehicle drivers, often in the largest vehicles on our roads that can cause the most harm in a crash. [4].  

Introduction

Fatigue is a major contributory factor in crashes in the UK, with too little sleep radically affecting driver attention, awareness, reaction time and ability to control the vehicle. [5]

In 2015, government figures recorded fatigue as a contributory factor in just 4% of road fatalities and 2% of all road casualties [6]. However, these figures are believed to be a very significant under-estimation because fatigue is hard to spot; unlike alcohol and drugs, police can’t test for tiredness. Research, commissioned by the Department for Transport in 2004, found one in six crashes resulting in death and injury on motorways and A roads were fatigue related [7].

Research has shown motorways and dual carriageways are the most common roads for sleep-related crashes, due to the monotonous road environment and lack of interruptions or driver stimulation [8].

Crashes caused by drivers falling asleep typically involve vehicles running off the road or into the back of another vehicle. They tend to be high-speed crashes, because drivers do not brake before crashing, so the risk of death or serious injury is high [9]. Even if tired drivers don’t fall asleep, they still pose a danger. Research suggests driving tired can be as dangerous as drink-driving [10], and is a significant factor in many rear end crashes [11]

Influences

Many factors can contribute to driver tiredness and increase the risk of being involved in a fatigue related crash. These include:

Lack of sleep or disturbed sleep: This could be due to disruptions in life such as a new baby, busy schedules or stress, or could be due to sleep disorders such as narcolepsy, insomnia or sleep apnoea.

Time of day: The most common times for drivers with normal sleep patterns to fall asleep at the wheel are early morning (2am-6am) and early afternoon (2pm-4pm). These times are when the body clock reaches a natural dip, causing drowsiness and reduced concentration [12].

Stress: Tiredness and difficulty concentrating are typical symptoms of stress [13].

Irregular sleep patterns: This can be a problem caused by irregular work shifts and switching from day to night shifts without having sufficient time off in between for your body clock to adjust. Research has found shift workers are particularly high risk for sleep-related crashes [14].

Driving for long periods: Research has found driving deteriorates after two hours of continuous driving, as you become less able to concentrate, and slower to react to hazards. The longer you drive, the more rest you need to recover driving performance [15]. Breaks are therefore recommended every two hours.

Vehicle engineering: Modern vehicles are usually quiet and comfortable for the driver, meaning a more relaxed drive. This can lull drivers, particularly in vehicles fitted with comfort-enhancing features such as cruise control [16].

Medication: Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause drowsiness and impaired alertness. Medications may carry warnings that are not clear they impair driving, for example small print that only advises not to operate heavy machinery. Learn more about drug driving.

Signs of fatigue

Research shows normal sleep does not occur without warning, and most people recognise symptoms but underestimate the dangers of continuing to drive [17]. Warning signs include: increased difficulty concentrating; yawning; heavy eyelids; eyes starting to ‘roll’; and neck muscles relaxing, making the head droop.

A ‘microsleep’ occurs when someone nods off for between two and 30 seconds without realising or remembering it [18], often known as head-nodding. This occurs when people are tired but trying to stay awake, most common in monotonous situations, like motorway driving at night. A Brake and Direct Line survey found one in three (31%) UK drivers surveyed admit having experienced a microsleep at the wheel [19].

After a microsleep the driver may feel like they’ve just briefly nodded their head, but they have actually been asleep. During this time they will have been completely unaware. In six seconds, a vehicle being driven at 70mph travels about 200 metres, which is enough time to veer across three lanes of traffic or into the central reservation. Simulator studies have shown a clear relationship between microsleeps and crashes [20].

At-work drivers are particularly at risk from tiredness, because they typically spend longer hours at the wheel, with four in ten tiredness-related crashes involved someone driving a commercial vehicle [21].

Male drivers are more involved in sleep-related crashes than females. Drivers under 30 are at higher risk than older drivers [22], and are most likely to crash due to tiredness in the early morning after little or no sleep [23]. 

Many drivers continue to take the risk of driving while tired, probably linked to lack of awareness of the risks. A Brake and Direct Line survey in 2014 found almost half (49%) of UK drivers surveyed admit driving after less than five hours’ sleep; this is not enough sleep to prevent fatigue [24].

Legislation on fatigue

Police investigations and penalties for killing someone due to fatigue-related driving

It can be difficult to prove a crash was caused by driver tiredness. A driver who was tired and crashed may not admit to drowsy driving or may die in the crash. It is not possible to test drivers for tiredness. However, if police suspect tiredness they can investigate length of driving, lifestyle (did the driver sleep for an adequate time before driving) and the type of impact (many tiredness crashes are high speed and do not involve braking because the driver is asleep). Lack of skid marks from braking, information from event data recorders and tachographs (see below) and eye witness statements can all help point the finger at fatigue.

A tired driver who kills someone can be charged with death by dangerous driving (if the nature of their driving was perceived to be dangerous) or death by careless driving (a lesser charge for less dangerous driving). The maximum penalty for death by dangerous driving is 14 years imprisonment [25] and the maximum penalty for death by careless driving is five years. The difference between 'careless' and 'dangerous' driving in the eyes of the law is slight and subjective: it's the difference between someone's driving falling below or well below what is expected of a careful and competent driver.  

Learn more about Brake’s Roads to Justice Campaign calling for appropriate sentencing for drivers whose driving causes death and injury.

Commercial vehicle legislation

In the UK companies operating fleets of vehicles have a legal duty of care to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all employees while at work” and are responsible for what might happen if this is not done. This “applies to all on-the-road work activities as to all work activities”. [26]

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) employers must assess the risks involved in staff use of the road for work and put in place all reasonably practical measures to manage driver fatigue. Employers need to assess which drivers and journeys are at risk and set schedules that do not require drivers to exceed recommended working limits and driver hours. [27]

Professional drivers of goods and passenger road vehicles must comply with the UK and EU Drivers’ Hours Rules, maintain log books, record hours of work and rest and ensure medical assessments are up-to-date as required. [28] Many commercial vehicles (trucks and coaches) have a device in their vehicle called a tachograph, which records how long they had been driving and breaks taken; this information, along with any available telematics information from event data recorders, can be studied by police if the vehicle is involved in a crash.

Rules for some commercial vehicle drivers are much stricter than others. In most cases, lorry and coach drivers are bound by European Union driver hours regulations (Directive 2012/15/EC); these regulations are complex but include limiting time at the wheel to nine hours a day or 56 hours a week on routes where all or part of the journey is in more than one EU country. Drivers must legally take a break for at least 45 minutes after 4.5 hours of driving. They must have unbroken rest periods of 45 hours every week, which can be reduced to 24 hours every other week. [29]

However, other commercially-operated vehicles, notably vans (commercial vehicles weighing 7.5 tonnes or under) and minibuses with 10-17 seats operated for reasons that aren’t commercial (for example for community transport), are exempt from EU regulations. These vehicles are only bound by much less rigorous GB domestic hours rules. These rules restrict a driving day to ten hours. However, they only stipulate a 30 minute break after 5.5 hours’ driving, or 45 minutes taken at times within an 8.5 hour driving shift.

UK figures show vans are the fastest growing users of the strategic road network (SRN), rising an estimated 4.2% between 2014 and 2015 alone. [31]

Medical restrictions

For some conditions associated with fatigue, such as sleep apnoea (for which effective treatment is available), drivers should inform the DVLA of their condition but can continue driving. For other fatigue-related conditions, like narcolepsy (for which there is no cure), drivers must contact the DVLA on diagnosis to relinquish their licence and it is a legal requirement for medical practitioners to tell them to do this. If a doctor discovers that their patient is continuing to drive, they are required to inform the DVLA. A driver who fails to notify the DVLA can be fined £1,000, or prosecuted for failing to do so. [32]

Mitigating fatigue: driver behaviour

The best way to avoid driving tired is to get plenty of rest beforehand, particularly if setting off early in the morning: at least seven to eight hours is recommended [33]. Research shows that driving on less than five hours sleep results in a one in ten chance of staying awake on a lengthy journey [34]. If driving late in the day, especially after a busy day, having a nap before setting off can help alertness.

Drivers are advised to plan long journeys to include rest breaks of at least 15 minutes at least every two hours [35] and if tiredness kicks in before then it is important to stop and rest as soon as possible. Trying alternate measures such as winding down the window, listening to music and talking to a passenger do not help [36].

When taking a break, the only cure for tiredness is sleep. Having a nap for 15 minutes is more effective in reducing driver sleepiness than an active break such as getting out of the vehicle and walking around [37].

Drinking a caffeinated drink such as coffee or an energy drink is effective in reducing driver tiredness over short periods, and has been found to reduce crash risk among long-distance truck drivers by 63% [38]. Energy drinks are a more reliable source of caffeine, as levels in coffee vary. Drinking caffeine before taking a 15 minute nap, giving the caffeine time to kick in while you rest, can therefore be helpful in addressing tiredness temporarily. However this is only a short-term solution, and cannot replace regular breaks and sufficient sleep. Therefore drivers who still feel tired or still have a long way to go should stay put and, if possible, check into a hotel to get some proper rest.

Read: Brake’s advice for drivers on avoiding tired driving.

Mitigating fatigue: road and vehicle design

There are ways to lessen the risk of fatigued drivers on the road, and, in the unfortunate event of a crash, reduce the consequences. Research shows that effective vehicle design and careful infrastructure management can prevent road crashes due to fatigue or mitigate the impact of a crash, should it occur [39]

In-vehicle technology

Driver distraction and drowsiness recognition (DDDR) is an in-vehicle system designed to detect symptoms of fatigue and alert the driver, warning them to take a break. The system monitors eye movement, including slow eyelid closure and rate of blinks, and wider head movements, such as a nodding head. Upon detecting physical indicators of fatigue the system will send a warning to the driver, indicating that they should take a break. DDDR systems can also be designed to monitor levels of heart rate and brain function; or steering and braking patterns indicative of inattention.

These systems (particularly those that track eye movement) are often available as an aftermarket product, marketed to fleet operators. TRL (the UK’s Transport Research Laboratory) recommend DDDR designed to monitor eye movement as these have the ‘strongest evidence base for real-time detection’ of fatigue. [40]

Improvements to the road environment

Should a road crash occur due to fatigue the design of the road can significantly affect the severity of the outcome. Infrastructure interventions that can mitigate the impact of sleep-related crashes include crash barriers (particularly median barriers on motorways and trunk roads). Barriers absorb kinetic energy and protect drivers from hitting other hazards (particularly the danger of hitting oncoming traffic in opposing lanes which increases the risk of death and injury due to the combined speed of a head-on crash) [41].

Infrastructure interventions such as barriers support the ‘safe systems approach’ that accepts some drivers will continue to make mistakes and works to improve the environment and vehicles to mitigate outcomes of crashes. The safe systems principles are supported in Britain’s Road Safety Statement launched in 2015 [42].

Highways England is responsible for the maintenance of England’s SRN, England’s motorways and most of its trunk roads. It is currently developing a system to rate accurately the safety standards of roads it is responsible for, based on the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) standards [43].

A preliminary study [44] of standards of road safety on the SRN in 2010 starred roads out of five (five being best) and found:

  • 50% of the motorway network was at 3 star and 50% at 4 star;
  • 78% of dual carriageways were at 3 star, with 20% at 4 star, and 2% at 2 star;
  • 62% of single carriageways were at 2 star, with nearly all the remainder at 3 star (only 1% being 1 star).

In light of these standards, Highways England is using a ring-fenced road safety fund (part of the Road Investment Strategy 2015-2020) and is currently making upgrades to roads with lower star ratings, as well as building in safety measures such as barriers as part of its general road improvement and development programmes (such as SMART motorways). 


End notes

[1] Jim Horne and Louise Reyner, Sleep Related Vehicle Accidents, Loughborough University, 2000
[2] Horne, J. and Reyner L., Sleep related vehicle accidents, 1995
[3] PACTS, Staying awake, staying alive: the problem of fatigue in the transport sector, 2014
[4] Flatley, D. & Rayner, L. et al, Sleep-Related Crashes on Sections of Different Road Types in the UK (1995–2001), 2004
[5] Road Safety Observatory, Driver fatigue: an overview, 2013
[6] DfT, Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual Report 2014, 2016, RAS50001
[7] Road Safety Research Report No. 52 Sleep-Related Crashes on Sections of Different Road Types in the UK (1995–2001), Sleep research centre, Loughborough,2004
[8] Ibid
[9] PACTS, Staying awake, staying alive: the problem of fatigue in the transport sector, 2014
[10] Long nightly driving comparable to drunk driving, Utrecht University, 2011
[11] Hui Zhang et. al, The effect of fatigue driving on car following behaviour, 2016
[12] Horne, J. and Reyner L., Sleep related vehicle accidents, 1995
[13] NHS Choices, Struggling with stress?, 2014
[14] RSSB, Driving for work: managing fatigue risks, 2013
[15] The impact of continuous driving time and rest time on commercial drivers' driving performance and recovery, Harbin Institute of Technology, 2014
[16] VINCI Autoroutes Foundation, Cruise control may cause drivers to be less attentive and more susceptible to fatigue, 2013
[17] Are drivers aware of sleepiness and increasing crash risk while driving? University of New South Wales, 2014
[18] PACTS, Staying awake, staying alive: the problem of fatigue in the transport sector, 2014
[19] Brake and Direct Line, Fit to drive: driver tiredness, 2014
[20] Microsleep Episodes and Related Crashes During Overnight Driving Simulations, University of Applied Sciences Schmalkalden, Germany, 2011
[21] Flatley, D. & Rayner, L. et al, Sleep-Related Crashes on Sections of Different Road Types in the UK (1995–2001), 2004
[22] Driver sleepiness—Comparisons between young and older men during a monotonous afternoon simulated drive, Biological Psychology, 2012
[23] Misperceptions about Unforewarned “Sleep Attacks” When Driving, British Medical Journal, 2011
[24] Brake and Direct Line, Fit to drive: driver tiredness, 2014
[25] Road Traffic Act (1988), Gov.uk, 1988
[26] Health and Safety at Work etc. Act (1974), Gov.uk, 1974
[27] Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999), Gov.uk, 1999
[28] RSSB, Driving for work: managing fatigue risks, a guide for road vehicle drivers and their managers, 2013
[29] Directive 2002/15/EC on the organisation of the working time of persons performing mobile road transport activities, European Parliament and of the Council, 2002
[30] Drivers’ hours – Great Britain domestic rules, Gov.uk, 2016
[31] Road traffic estimates: Great Britain 2015, Department for Transport, 2016,
[32] General Medical Council Guidelines reproduced by General information: assessing fitness to drive, Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency, 2016
[33] BUPA, The science of sleep, 2015
[34] Sleep research centre, Loughborough, Road Safety Research Report No. 52 Sleep-Related Crashes on Sections of Different Road Types in the UK (1995–2001),  2004
[35] Department for Transport, The Highway Code: rule 90
[36] In-car countermeasures hardly effective against driver sleepiness, Swedish Road and Transport Research Institute, 2012
[37] The effectiveness of nap and active rest breaks for reducing driver sleepiness, Queensland University of Technology, 2014
[38] Caffeine reduces crash risk for long-distance truck drivers but can't replace sleep, George Institute for Global Health, 2013
[39] Merat, N. and Jamson, A., The effect of three low-cost engineering treatments on fatigue: a driving simulator study, 2012
[40] Benefit and Feasibility of a Range of New Technologies and Unregulated Measures in the fields of Vehicle Occupant Safety and Protection of Vulnerable Road Users, TRL, 2015[41] Zero road deaths and serious injuries: leading a paradigm shift to a safe system, International Transport Forum, 2016
[42] Working Together to Build a Safer Road System British Road Safety Statement, Department for Transport, 2015
[43] Road Safety Toolkit, International road assessment programme (iRAP), undated
[44] As presented by iRAP to road safety stakeholder meeting convened by Office Of Rail and Road, September 2016


Page last updated: November 2016

 

Drivers clueless about dangers of over-the-counter drugs as hayfever season starts

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Brake, the road safety charity
news@brake.org.uk

A survey by Brake and Direct Line has found an alarming level of ignorance and complacency about the dangerous effects of many prescription and over-the-counter medications on driving, as one in six (17%) admit either ignoring warnings not to drive or not checking the label at all. The findings come as the pollen count starts to soar at the start of the hayfever season, and hayfever medication is one of the most common drugs that can impair driving.

Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can impair your ability to drive safely, by causing drowsiness or affecting reaction times, coordination, concentration or vision. These include some hayfever medications, painkillers, antibiotics and cough and cold medicines [1].

Brake and Direct Line's survey also found:

  • Almost half (44%) of drivers who use hayfever medication admit sometimes or never checking the instructions to see if it will affect their driving ability.
  • Three in 10 (30%) drivers are unaware some hayfever and allergy medications can impair your ability to drive. Lack of awareness is higher among men (39%) than women (23%). Awareness is even lower for many other medications, including decongestants (47%) and cough medicines (60%). Full results below.

Brake is urging all drivers to always check the label on their medication, and not to drive if it says your driving could be affected – if unsure, consult your doctor or pharmacist, and always err on the side of caution.

It is illegal to drive while unfit to do as a result of taking either legal or illegal drugs. As part of a new drug driving law set to come into force in autumn 2014, the Department for Transport believes roads will be safer by making it easier for the police to tackle those who drive after taking illegal drugs and clarifying the position for those who take medication [2].

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: "It's not just illegal drugs that make you unsafe to drive; legal, over-the-counter and prescription drugs can make you a danger too, to yourself and others. This widespread lack of awareness among drivers is alarming, suggesting many are unwittingly posing a threat to safety on our roads. It's a particular concern at this time of year, when huge numbers of people will be using hayfever medicines, some of which can be risky if you drive. All drivers have a responsibility to ensure they are fit to drive when getting behind the wheel, including not drinking alcohol, ensuring their eyesight is up to scratch, and making sure their medication is safe to drive on. If it isn't, you need to stop driving or seek an alternative medication."

Analysing the results further, Rob Miles, director of car insurance at Direct Line, commented: "With one in ten drivers admitting they have driven after taking medication that potentially affects their driving in the past year, it's vital that they don't drive while the medication is having an effect on their vision or reaction times. We're calling on drivers to stay safe and take alternative transport if their doctor or medication instructions advise them not to drive."

A leading expert in this field, Maureen Jenkins, director of clinical services for Allergy UK, advises sufferers to seek out the latest available medications. She said: "second and third-generation antihistamines should always be chosen over the first generation antihistamines, which pass into the central nervous system, causing sedation. Tests and experimental studies on real driving indicate that it is advisable to avoid first generation medications for drivers [3]. If you're in doubt about which is the latest available medication, ask your pharmacist or GP."

Tweet us: @Brakecharity. Read the survey report.

Facts
Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can impair your ability to drive safely, for instance by causing drowsiness or affecting reactions times, coordination, concentration or vision. These include some cough and cold medicines, anti-inflammatories, anti-histamines, antibiotics, antidepressants, epilepsy drugs and sleeping pills [4].

A study by the Transport Research Laboratory found that 5.2% of drivers and 4.1% of motorcyclists who die in road crashes had traces of medicinal drugs that could have affected their driving [5].

Among hayfever medications, first-generation anti-histamines are well known to cause drowsiness, and some also impair coordination and reaction times in a similar manner to alcohol. However, second- and third-generation antihistamines have also been found to cause drowsiness in some people [6] [7].

Brake's advice
When taking any medication you should always check the label to see if it could affect your ability to drive. If the label says your driving could be affected, it could make you drowsy, or not to drive if you feel drowsy, then assume you could be impaired and don't drive on it. If you are unsure if your medication could affect driving, consult your doctor or pharmacist. Never drive if the label or a health professional recommends that you don't, or says you could be affected, or if you feel drowsy or slow.

If your medication affects your driving, stop driving, not your medication – make arrangements for alternative transport, or if you need to drive seek an alternative medication.

About the report
These survey results come from Section 3 of Report 2 – Fit to Drive, of the Direct Line and Brake report on safe driving, 2012-14, released today (Wednesday 25 June 2014). The survey consisted of 1,000 drivers and was conducted by Surveygoo. Read the report.

Full results
Q1: In the past 12 months, how often have you driven after taking prescribed or over-the-counter medication which recommends you don't drive?

  • 2% said once a month
  • 1% said once a week
  • 2% said several times a week
  • 1% said every day
  • 2% said once
  • 3% said occasionally
  • 7% said not sure – I don't always check the recommendations
  • 83% said never

Q2: Which of the over-the-counter medications below do you think affect your ability to drive safely?

  • 70% said some hayfever and allergy medications (61% men, 77% women)
  • 47% said some decongestants (41% men, 51% women)
  • 69% said some painkillers (65% men, 71% women)
  • 25% said some diet pills (21% men, 27% women)
  • 60% said some cough medicines (56% men, 63% women)
  • 47% said some travel sickness medications (42% men, 51% women)
  • 19% said some heartburn and indigestion medications (19% men, 20% women)
  • 9% said none of the above (11% men, 7% women)

Q3: If you have used hayfever medication in the last 12 months, have you always checked the instructions to make sure it won't affect your driving?

  • 66% said they haven't used hayfever medication
  • 19% said they always check the instructions – this is 56% of those who use hayfever medication
  • 11% said they usually do, or sometimes don't, check the instructions – this is 32% of those who use hayfever medication
  • 4% said they never check the instructions – this is 12% of those who use hayfever medication

Brake
Brake is a national road safety charity that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaigns, community education, a Fleet Safety Forum, practitioner services, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Brake was founded in the UK in 1995, and now has domestic operations in the UK and New Zealand, and works globally to promote action on road safety.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

Direct Line
Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by UK Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. UK Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc. Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0845 246 3761 or visiting www.directline.com.

End notes
[1] State of the road: medication and driving, Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland, 2011
[2] Public approval for driving limits for 16 drugs, Department for Transport, 2014 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/public-approval-for-driving-limits-for-16-drugs
[3] Antihistamines in drivers, aircrew and occupations of risk, Basurto University Hospital, 2013 http://www.jiaci.org/issues/vol23s1/3.pdf
[4] State of the road: medication and driving, Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety – Queensland, 2011
[5] The incidence of drugs and alcohol in road accident fatalities, Transport Research Laboratory, 2000
[6] Antihistamines – side effects, NHS choices, 2013 http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Antihistamines/Pages/Side-effects.aspx
[7] Antihistamines and driving ability: evidence from on-the-road driving studies during normal traffic, Verster JC & Volkerts ER, 2004 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15049392

Drug driving

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Key facts:

• Impairment by illegal or medical drugs was officially recorded as a contributory factor in 62 fatal road crashes and 259 crashes resulting in serious injuries in 2015 in Britain [1], but experts estimate the true figure could be much higher;
• One in six bodies of dead drivers (18%) and 16% of the bodies of dead motorcyclists were found to have illegal drugs in their bodies, in research commissioned by the Department for Transport published in 2001. About 6% of dead drivers and dead motorcyclists had taken medicines that could have affected their driving [2];
• One in six (17%) of 1,396 randomly-tested Glasgow drivers in 2005 had taken at least one illegal drug, with the most common being MDMA and cannabis [3];
• After extensive campaigning by Brake and others, in 2015, legislation came into force in England and Wales, banning driving on certain listed illegal and prescription drugs (previously it was only a crime if there was evidence of impaired driving) [4]. Similar laws have not yet been adopted in Scotland or Northern Ireland;
• The new law’s enforcement requires use of type-approved testing devices. However, at present, type approval has only been given to devices able to identify just two of the drugs listed as illegal to drive on (cannabis and cocaine) [5]. There is no type-approved testing device for MDMA as yet;
• Despite this limitation, between March 2015 and April 2016, almost 8,000 people were arrested for drug-driving in England and Wales [6];
• There is evidence that police are able to target effectively who they drug screen. During the one-month Christmas 2015 drink and drug drive campaign, 1,888 targeted drug screening tests were carried out in England and Wales, and nearly 50% were positive [7].
Many illegal and medicinal drugs seriously impair driving ability. In Britain, impairment by illegal or medical drugs was recorded as a contributory factor in at least 62 fatal road crashes and 259 serious injuries in 2015 [8]. Experts have estimated the true figure could be much higher.

Illegal drugs: prevalence among drivers

In research carried out in 2005 in Glasgow, 1,396 drivers were stopped at random and asked to participate voluntarily in a saliva test. One in six (17%) tested positive for at least one drug. In 85% of cases, one drug had been taken, with the most common drugs being MDMA (ecstasy) (more than 4% of those tested) and cannabis (more than 3% of those tested). The research was part of the EU-funded IMMORTAL project (Impaired Motorists, Methods of Roadside Testing and Assessment for Licensing) [9].

Self-admission rates in surveys are predictably lower, but still at very significant levels. A Brake and Direct Line 2016 survey found 7% of drivers surveyed admitted driving on illegal drugs in the past year (with nearly half of these saying they do it weekly or more), and one in five think they may have been a passenger with a driver on drugs. One in seven (16%) say they wouldn't always speak out to stop a friend driving on drugs [10].

Illegal drugs and rising prevalence in bodies of dead drivers

UK government-commissioned research by TRL (the Transport Research Laboratory), published in 2001, found illegal drugs (with the most common being cannabis) in the bodies of 18% of drivers and 16% of motorcyclists (out of more than 1,000 drivers who died in road crashes) [11].
This study was a repeat of a study carried out by TRL looking at dead drivers in the 1980s; that earlier study had found evidence of illegal drug use in the bodies of only 3% of drivers.
This useful research has unfortunately not been repeated more recently by the government.

Effects of illegal drugs

The effects of illegal drugs can be highly unpredictable. However there are a number of adverse effects on driving ability [12].

Effects of drugs most commonly found in the systems of British drug drivers

Cannabis: This slows reactions; affects concentration; often gives a sedative-like effect, resulting in fatigue; affects co-ordination [13]. Research using driver simulators has found cannabis makes drivers less able to steer accurately and slower to react to another vehicle pulling out [14].

MDMA (ecstasy): This makes the heart beat faster, which can cause a surge of adrenaline and result in a driver feeling over-confident and taking risks. Short-term risks can also include anxiety, panic attacks, confused episodes, paranoia or even psychosis, all of which can have a negative impact on drivers [15].

Cocaine: This causes over-confidence and can cause erratic behaviour. After a night out using cocaine, people may feel like they have flu, feel sleepy and lack concentration [16].

Other drugs and their effects:

Dissociative drugs: Common ones are ketamine and PCP. These can cause muscle paralysis; hallucinations; confusion, agitation, panic attacks; and memory impairment [17].

Hallucinogens: Most common ones are LSD (Acid) and magic mushrooms (psilocybin). Can speed up or slow down time and movement, making the speed of other vehicles difficult to judge. Causes colours, sounds and objects to appear distorted. They can cause disorientation, confusion, panic, fatigue and nausea [18] [19].

Amphetamines and methamphetamines: This includes speed (and more powerful versions including ice (crystal meth)). These drugs make people feel wide awake and excited, causing erratic behaviour and risk-taking; and can make people panicky. Users have difficulty sleeping, so will also be tired for days [20].

Opiates: This includes heroin and opium. They have a sedative affect, slowing reaction times, causing inappropriate responses, reduced coordination and reduced ability to think clearly. They cause blurred vision and drowsiness, nausea and vomiting. [21]

Illegal drugs and estimates of how much they increase crash risk

Some studies have sought to identify the risk rate of drug drivers being involved in fatal or serious crashes. 

A study of fatal crashes in France between 2001 and 2003 concluded cannabis almost doubles the risk of being involved in a fatal crash [22]. Analysis of road crash hospital admissions in Canada between 2009 and 2011 found cannabis use increases the risk of being involved in a serious crash by four times [23].

The EU-commissioned “DRUID” research programme into the risks found fatal or serious injury crash risk increased by:
• 2 times for drivers on cannabis;
• 16 times for drivers on cannabis combined with alcohol;
• 2-10 times for drivers on cocaine or opiates;
• 5-30 times for drivers on amphetamines [24].
Separate studies have found MDMA to be impairing when driving [25].

Combining illegal drugs with alcohol increases risk: analysis of fatal crashes in the USA found drivers who have consumed both are 23 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than sober drivers [26].

Medicinal drugs

Many prescription and over-the-counter medications impair ability to drive safely, for instance causing drowsiness, affecting reaction times, coordination, concentration or vision.

Warnings on medication can be vague or in small print only. They may indicate there is a risk of impairment but not relate it to driving. They may leave it to the user to judge their own level of impairment (which can be hard).

In some countries, warning labels are required to be more obvious and give clearer advice on driving. For example, in Australia medications are legally required to display a visible warning label if a driver can be affected [27].

Effects of medicinal drugs

Medical drugs that can impair driving include some cough and cold medicines, anti-inflammatories, anti-histamines, antibiotics, antidepressants, epilepsy drugs and sleeping pills.

Many drivers are unaware: a Brake and Direct Line survey found three in 10 drivers (30%) are unaware some hay fever and allergy medications can impair driving, more than half (53%) are unaware of the risks of decongestants and four in 10 (40%) don’t know cough medicines can impair driving [28].

Among hay fever medications, earlier varieties of anti-histamines are known to cause drowsiness, and some impair coordination and reaction times in a similar manner to alcohol [29]. Second- and third-generation antihistamines have also been found to cause drowsiness in some people [30].

Prevalence among drivers

A survey by Brake and Direct Line found one in six (17%) UK drivers admit either ignoring warnings that medication can cause side effects that could impair their driving ability, or not checking labels for such warnings. Almost half (44%) of drivers who use hay fever medication admit sometimes or never checking the instructions to see if it will affect their driving ability [31].
Medicinal drugs and crash risk

UK government-commissioned research by TRL (the Transport Research Laboratory), published in 2001, found 5% of drivers and 4% of motorcyclists who died in road crashes had taken medicines that could have affected their driving [32].

A Norwegian study found the risk of being involved in a road crash doubled or tripled, depending on the type of drug, for up to seven days after being prescribed medicinal drugs (including opiates, tranquillizers, hypnotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and penicillin), with a marked increase in users prescribed opiate painkillers and some tranquilizers [33].

Research from New Zealand found drivers who have taken any psychoactive illegal or medical drugs (such as some medicines used to treat bipolar disorder) are more than three times more likely to be at fault in collisions than sober drivers [34].

Learn more: Read the Brake and Direct Line Fit to drive report.

The law

In the UK, it is an offence to drive impaired by drugs.

In England and Wales, it is also an offence (since 2015 under the Crime and Courts Act) to drive with certain controlled drugs listed under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in your system. These basically comprise the most commonly taken illicit drugs plus some prescription-only drugs. This law does not apply in Scotland nor Northern Ireland.

Police can stop and test any driver they suspect of being on drugs, and may also test if a driver is stopped for another offence, or if they are involved in a crash.

The illegal drugs banned are: cannabis, cocaine, MDMA, LSD (acid), methamphetamines (ice (crystal meth)), ketamine, and heroin. The limits for these drugs are extremely low; effectively zero tolerance.

Medicinal drugs are banned at certain levels. Drugs banned include benzodiazepine tranquillizers at the following levels: diazepam 550ug/L, clonazepam 50ug/L, temazepam 1,000ug/L, flunitrazepam (commonly known as rohypnol) 300ug/L, lorazepam 100ug/L and oxazepam 300ug/L.

Methadone (commonly prescribed to opiate addicts) is banned at 500ug/L. The painkiller morphine is also banned at 80ug/L.

Amphetamine is also listed as a banned substance, either as a medicinal or illicit drug depending on use.

The limits for medical drugs are set at level where they are thought to begin to affect driving, as advised by a panel of medical experts [35].

The need for type-approved testing devices that detect more drugs

The law is reliant on police having access to drug testing devices that are “type approved” to test for a particular drug. Police do not have access to such devices to test for most of the drugs covered in the law.

In March 2015 devices that can test only two of the 17 drugs featured in the Act (cannabis and cocaine) were given type approval for use in roadside drug screening [36].

Experts have argued that the most important priority is for a drug testing device to be approved that identifies drivers using ecstasy (MDMA). Dr Rob Tunbridge, co-author of the 2001 TRL report showing prevalence of illegal drugs in dead drivers, says: “As a first step, roadside screening devices need approval for testing of MDMA. Along with cannabis and cocaine, all social survey and epidemiological evidence suggests that these three drugs represent the major problem for drug driving in GB.” [37]

Rise in drug detection and convictions since March 2015 in England and Wales

However, even with screening limited to cannabis and cocaine testing, there has been a huge rise in detection of drug drivers by police in England and Wales since the new law’s introduction in March 2015.

Arrests have soared in different police force areas by up to 800% since the law has been introduced [38].
Between March 2015 and April 2016, almost 8,000 people were arrested for drug-driving in England and Wales according to a Freedom of Information answer provided to the BBC by the government [39].

During the Christmas 2015 drink and drug drive campaign alone, 1,888 targeted drug screening tests were carried out in one month across England and Wales, and nearly 50% were positive [40].

Conviction data is beginning to emerge. Information held by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in February 2016 showed at least 619 drivers were convicted of the new offences of driving, or being in charge of a vehicle, with a drug in their system above the specified limit in 2015. Together with convictions for driving, or being in charge of a vehicle, while unfit through drugs (more than 800 convictions) and convictions for death by careless driving while unfit through drugs (3) this meant convictions for drug driving offences (known to the DVLA at the time of the provided information) rose from 1,039 in 2014 to 1,490 in 2015 [41].

Time line of how the law changed in England and Wales

2003: The government implemented the Railways and Transport Safety Act (RATS) [42] which allowed for roadside testing for drugs using “type approved” devices that test saliva or sweat. However, at that time no such type approved devices were available to police, who were reliant on “field impairment testing” (FIT) (which sets tests for a suspected driver (such as walk in a straight line) and only indicates impairment rather than provides proof).

2010: Sir Peter North published a Review of Drink and Drug Driving Policy. [43] North and a House of Commons Transport Select Committee concluded that drug screening of drivers should be introduced as soon as practically possible.

2012: An ‘expert’ panel was set up to consider the technical aspects of introducing an offence of driving after taking illegal drugs and the possibility of identifying impairing levels for these drugs.

2013: Expert panel recommended limits. [44] The panel's evidence was based partly on the Pan European study DRUID (DRiving Under the Influence of Drugs, alcohol and medicines) [45]

2013: The Crime and Courts Act made it illegal in England and Wales (not Scotland nor Northern Ireland) for “driving or being in charge of a motor vehicle with a concentration of a specified drug above a specified limit.”[46]

2014: Limits for drugs were specified under The Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) Regulations 2014 [47]

2015 (March): Limits specified and the law is applied. Devices that can test only two of the 17 drugs featured in the Act (cannabis and cocaine) were given type approval for use in roadside drug screening.

Penalties

Following the introduction of the new legislation in England and Wales in 2015, drivers caught and convicted of drug-driving can receive a minimum 12-month driving ban; a criminal record; and a fine of up to £5,000, or up to 6 months in prison, or both. The penalty for causing death by dangerous driving under the influence of drugs is a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.
A drug-drive conviction can also make it harder to gain employment, increases car insurance costs and causes difficulty when gaining a visa to travel abroad to certain countries, for example the USA. [48]


End notes

[1] Department for Transport, 2016, Reported road casualties in Great Britain 2015, table RAS50001
[2] Transport Research Laboratory, 2001, The Incidence of Drugs and Alcohol in Road Accident Fatalities, report no. 495
[3] Assum T, Mathijssen MP, Houwing S, Buttress SC, Sexton B, Tunbridge RJ and Oliver J., 2005, The prevalence of drug driving and relative risk estimations. A study conducted in The Netherlands, Norway and United Kingdom. IMMORTAL EU research project, Deliverable D-R4.2. 2005. Final programme report
[4] gov.uk The Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) Regulations 2014
[5] Tunbridge, R, 2016, The preliminary effects of new drug driving legislation in Great Britain, Presentation to the October 2016 Brazil World Rescue Challenge Conference
[6] Freedom of Information request, BBC, 2016
[7] Department for Transport press release, 28 Feb 2016, Drug drive arrests on the rise
[8] Department for Transport, 2015, Reported road casualties Great Britain: Annual report 2014, Table RAS50001
[9] Assum T, Mathijssen MP, Houwing S, Buttress SC, Sexton B, Tunbridge RJ and Oliver J., 2005, The prevalence of drug driving and relative risk estimations. A study conducted in The Netherlands, Norway and United Kingdom. IMMORTAL EU research project, Deliverable D-R4.2. 2005. Final programme report
[10] Brake and Direct Line, 2016, Fit to drive: drug driving
[11] Transport Research Laboratory, 2001, The Incidence of Drugs and Alcohol in Road Accident Fatalities, report no. 495
[12] PACTS, 2016, Fit to Drive?
[13] A-Z of drugs: Cannabis, Talk to Frank, undated
[14] Transport Research Laboratory, 2000, The Influence of Cannabis on Driving
[15] A-Z of drugs: Ecstasy, Talk to Frank, undated
[16] A-Z of drugs: Cocaine, Talk to Frank, undated 
[17] A-Z of drugs: Ketamine, Talk to Frank, undated
[18] A-Z of drugs: LSD, Talk to Frank, undated
[19] A-Z of drugs: Magic mushrooms, Talk to Frank, undated
[20] A-Z of drugs: Speed, Talk to Frank, undated
[21] Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Australia, How does heroin and other opiates affect driving?
[22] British Medical Journal, 2005, Cannabis intoxication and fatal road crashes in France: population based case-control study
[23] University of Toronto, 2013, Cannabis and traffic collision risk
[24] EU DRUID Programme, 2012, DRUID Final Report: work performance, main results and recommendations
[25] Logan BKCouper FJ, 2001. Washington State Toxicology Laboratory, Bureau of Forensic Laboratory Services, Washington State Patrol, Seattle, 2001. 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, ecstasy) and driving impairment.
[26] Columbia University, 2013, Drug use and fatal motor vehicle crashes
[27] Australian pharmaceutical formulary and handbook (21st ed.), Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA), 2009.
[28] Brake and Direct Line, 2014, Fit to drive: medication and driving
[29] University of Utrecht, 2004, Antihistamines and driving ability: evidence from on-the-road driving studies during normal traffic
[30] NHS Choices, 2015, Antihistamines – side effects
[31] Brake and Direct Line, 2014, Fit to drive: medication and driving
[32] Transport Research Laboratory, 2001, The Incidence of Drugs and Alcohol in Road Accident Fatalities, report no. 495
[33] Norwegian Institute of Public Health, 2007, Risk of Road Traffic Accidents Associated With the Prescription of Drugs: A Registry-Based Cohort Study
[34] Queensland University of Technology, 2012, Medications and driving: community knowledge, perceptions and experience
[35] Department for Transport, 2015, Table of drugs and limits
[36] Tunbridge, R, 2016, The preliminary effects of new drug driving legislation in Great Britain, Presentation to the October 2016 Brazil World Rescue Challenge Conference
[37] ibid
[38] Department for Transport press release, 28 Feb 2016, Drug drive arrests on the rise
[39] Freedom of Information Request, BBC, 1 June 2016, Drug driving: almost 8,000 arrests
[40] Department for Transport press release, 28 Feb 2016, Drug drive arrests on the rise
[41] Freedom of Information Request, DVLA, 16 Nov 2016, Number of Drug Driving Convictions
[42] Railways and Transport Safety Act, gov.uk, 2016
[43] Sir Peter North, June 2010, Report of the Review of Drink and Drug Driving Law
[44] Wolff et al., 2013, Driving under the influence of drugs
[45] EU DRUID Programme, 2012, DRUID Final Report: work performance, main results and recommendations
[46] Crime and Courts Act, 2013
[47] The Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) Regulations 2014, gov.uk
[48] Drugs and Driving: the law, Department for Transport, 2016


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Page last updated: December 2016

Government must learn from Scottish drink drive laws and cut limit in England and Wales to save lives

News from Brake

10 February 2016 

news@brake.org.uk

Brake is disappointed transport minister Andrew Jones MP has now confirmed there will be no review of the drink drive limit in England and Wales. This seems to be at odds with his stated intentions to discuss the experience of the lower limit in Scotland and get access to robust evidence of the road safety impact.   

We are urging the minister to learn from the successful reduction of the drink drive limit in Scotland during talks with his Scottish counterpart [i] and instigate a review of those levels in the rest of the UK. 

We already know the number of drink drive offences fell by more than 12 per cent in Scotland in the first nine months after the drink drive limit was lowered from 80 to 50mg/100ml of blood in December 2014.  It dropped by almost 8 percent during the first year in total, the figure being reduced by a drink driving spike over Christmas and New Year.[ii]

A study by the Scottish government also found the reduction is changing attitudes with 82 per cent of people there now believing it is not acceptable to drink any amount of alcohol and then drive. [iii] The government’s own research in the latest British Social Attitudes survey shows 85 percent of people think you should not drink any alcohol at all if you plan to drive.[iv]

Campaigns director for Brake, the road safety charity Gary Rae said: “We would urge the minister to listen to and learn from his Scottish counterpart and respect the wishes of both the British public and the police by following Scotland’s lead and dropping the drink drive limit. Early indications show a clear reduction in offences in Scotland which can only make our roads safer and mean fewer devastating preventable deaths and injuries. This would be a useful step in moving towards a complete zero tolerance of drink driving, which is the only way to make our roads safe.”

 [ENDS]

Notes to Editors:

About Brake

Brake is a national road safety charity, founded in 1995, that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaignscommunity education, services for road safety professionals and employers, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Follow Brake on TwitterFacebook, or The Brake Blog.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

 

Irish Government proposes to name and shame drink drivers

News from Brake

18 July 2017
news@brake.org.uk

Ireland's Transport Minister, Shane Ross, has announced proposals to bring forward legislation to publicly list the names of people disqualified from driving after being convicted of drink driving. Reacting to the proposals, Jason Wakeford, spokesman for road safety charity Brake, said: "Despite decades of campaigning, one in eight road deaths still involves a driver over the limit. Drunk drivers pose a serious threat and any initiative that could make someone think twice before drink driving should be given proper consideration. However, greater investment in road traffic policing and greater penalties for those breaking the law are also crucial."

[ENDS]

About Brake

Brake is a national road safety charity, founded in 1995, that exists to stop the needless deaths and serious injuries that happen on roads every day, make streets and communities safer for everyone, and care for families bereaved and injured in road crashes. Brake promotes road safety awareness, safe and sustainable road use, and effective road safety policies. We do this through national campaignscommunity educationservices for road safety professionals and employers, and by coordinating the UK's flagship road safety event every November, Road Safety Week. Brake is a national, government-funded provider of support to families and individuals devastated by road death and serious injury, including through a helpline and support packs.

Follow Brake on TwitterFacebook, or The Brake Blog.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

Male drivers urged to wake up to dangers of tired driving; survey finds half have nodded off at wheel

9 January 2014

Brake, the road safety charity
news@brake.org.uk

Male drivers are being urged to get plenty of sleep and take regular breaks, as research from Brake and Direct Line reveals a horrifying 45% admit ‘head-nodding’ at the wheel – meaning they have been asleep briefly, risking appalling crashes.

Brake and Direct Line’s survey [1] reveals:

  • One in three drivers overall (31%) admit ‘head-nodding’ at the wheel – nearly half (45%) of male drivers and one in five (22%) female drivers.
  • One in 14 drivers overall (7%) admit actually ‘falling asleep’ at the wheel – 14% of male drivers and 2% of female drivers.
  • Almost half (49%) of drivers admit driving after less than five hours’ sleep – not nearly enough for safe driving. Again, this is more common among men (55%) than women (45%).

Many drivers aren’t aware that if you ‘head nod’ (also called ‘micro-sleeps’) you have already nodded off, putting yourself and others in a huge amount of danger. Micro-sleeps can last from two to 30 seconds, meaning that a frighteningly large number of drivers have been temporarily out of control of their vehicles.

Tired driving kills at least 300 people on UK roads every year [2], with a devastating impact on families across the country– although the actual figure could be much higher as driver tiredness can be hard to prove as a cause of crashes. More facts below.

Brake urges all drivers to help stamp out devastating crashes by making a pledge to always getting a good night’s sleep before driving, taking two-hourly breaks, and pulling over somewhere safe as soon as safe to do so, if feeling tired.

Brake also calls on the government to run more campaigns to raise awareness about the dangers of driving when tired and how to avoid it, as well as calling on them to conduct a review of safe stopping places on motorways, ensuring there are enough to enable drivers to take regular breaks.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said:“The fact that so many drivers – especially men – have head-nodded at the wheel is horrifying, even more so that many don’t recognise this means they have fallen asleep briefly. This survey suggests this is down to many people failing to ensure they always get sufficient sleep before embarking on journeys. We need all drivers to wake up to the fact that ‘head nodding’ is falling asleep, and can easily lead to catastrophe, but it can, of course be prevented. Brake urges all drivers to pledge to get a good night’s sleep before driving, take breaks every two hours, and never try to ‘plough on’ when they’re tired, because sleep can ensue so quickly. Ultimately, getting home to your loved ones a bit later is better than never getting there at all.” 

Rob Miles, director of Motor at Direct Line, commented: “Tiredness and driving are a deadly combination. Not only is there a risk of falling asleep at the wheel, but when we are tired our reactions and awareness of our surroundings are not as sharp as they would normally be. Regular breaks, at least every two hours, are essential for staying alert and awake, as is getting plenty of sleep the night before.”

Read about Brake’s ‘Wake up!’ campaign. Read thesurvey report.

Facts
At least 300 people are killed each year as a result of drivers falling asleep at the wheel [3] and tiredness is estimated to cause one in five deaths on UK trunk roads [4]. These crashes typically involve vehicles running off the road or into the back of another vehicle, and are often serious, high speed collisions because the driver does not brake [5].

Too little sleep radically affects your ability to drive safely: on just five hours’ sleep you only have a one in ten chance of staying awake on a lengthy journey [6]. When sleep comes it is not without warning; drivers know when they are getting sleepy [7]. Warning signs include: difficulty concentrating; yawning; heavy eyelids; eyes starting to ‘roll’; neck muscles relaxing, making your head droop.

Drivers trying to fight off sleep often experience ‘micro-sleeps’, nodding off for two to 30 seconds, often without realising or remembering it. This is more than enough to cause a fatal crash: a driver experiencing a six-second micro-sleep at 70mph on a motorway would travel 200m in that time. Simulator studies have shown a clear relationship between ‘micro-sleeps’ and crashes [8].

At-work drivers are particularly at risk from tiredness, because they typically spend much longer hours at the wheel. Nearly half (about four in ten) tiredness-related crashes involve someone driving a commercial vehicle [9].

If you cause a death while proven to be driving tired, you can be charged with causing death by dangerous driving. The maximum penalty is 14 years in prison.

Brake's advice
Brake urges all drivers to have a good night’s sleep before any journey. If you drive when tired, it is impossible to stop yourself eventually nodding off at the wheel [10]. Drivers should also take a break at least every two hours for at least 15 minutes, but should stop sooner if they feel tired.

Winding down the window or turning up the radio does not prevent sleep. If you feel tired you need to stop in a safe place as soon as possible. Drink coffee or ideally an energy drink with caffeine in it, then try to snooze for ten minutes in your vehicle. By the time you wake up, the caffeine will have kicked in [11]. If you feel alert again, drive on. If not, stay put. Bear in mind the effects of caffeine are temporary; the only real solution is a good night’s sleep.

If you wake up in the morning feeling exhausted, struggle to stay awake, snore or wake up struggling to breathe, you may suffer from a relatively common condition called sleep apnoea. Sufferers are at a significantly increased risk of crashing [12]. However, the condition is fully treatable, so if you experience symptoms, stop driving immediately and see a doctor.

Calls for government action
Brake calls for a national audit of rest areas and crash barriers on motorways and trunk roads to ensure that there is adequate provision for drivers to rest regularly, and to minimise the consequences of crashes caused by tired drivers.

Brake is also calling on the government to run more education campaigns warning of the dangers of driving tired, and explaining what drivers can do to prevent tired driving crashes.

Case study
Andrew Radford, 33, was a respected deputy head teacher at a primary school in Shropshire. He was a kind and gentle man with a love of music.

At about 5.30pm on 4 December 2008 Andrew was on his way back from work, and only two minutes away from home, when he veered across the central line into oncoming traffic, causing several cars to swerve out of his way before crashing head-on into a Volvo. A driver behind Andrew noted that his brake lights did not come on. Despite having emergency surgery, Andrew died in hospital in the early hours of Friday 5 December.

Andrew told a paramedic treating him at the scene that he fell asleep at the wheel after deciding not to take a break. This decision cost him his life.

His wife Vicki was left to break the news to their two children, Sam and Alice (then aged 4 and 2). Vicki says: “As a husband and father he was perfect – my best friend, soul mate and love of my life. I wish that we had known more about tired driving and taken it more seriously. Andrew was a good driver – no points, always sensible, the last person you would think this could happen to. I wish that he had stopped to rest; I would rather he came home late than not at all. If any good can come out of this, then it will be that people will hear about Andrew and think again about continuing to drive when they feel tired. The only way to stop this happening over and over is show people the consequences – it happened to us, it can happen to you.”

The coroner at Andrew’s inquest said: “The tragic death of Mr Radford is a reminder to all of us that when we do feel tired when driving, but feel we can make it to our destination, it is better to stop.”

About the report
These survey results come from section 5 of the Direct Line and Brake report on safe driving, 2012 – 2014 Fit to drive, released today (Tuesday 7 January). The survey consisted of 1,000 drivers and was conducted by Redshift Research. Read the report.

Brake
Brake is an independent road safety charity. Brake exists to stop the five deaths and 63 serious injuries that happen on UK roads every day and to care for families bereaved and seriously injured in road crashes. Brake runs awareness-raising campaigns, community education programmes, events such as Road Safety Week (18-24 November 2013), and a Fleet Safety Forum, providing advice to companies. Brake’s support division cares for road crash victims through a helpline and other services.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

Direct Line
Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by UK Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. UK Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc. Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0845 246 3761 or visiting www.directline.com.

End notes
[1] A survey of 1,000 drivers from across the UK conducted on behalf of Brake and Direct Line by Redshift Research. The results are contained in the Brake and Direct Line Report on Safe Driving 2012-14: Fit to Drive, section 5 – tiredness. Read the report.
[2] Loughborough University Sleep Research Centre, www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/hu/groups/sleep
[3] ibid
[4] Department for Transport, www.thinkroadsafety.gov.uk
[5] ibid
[6] Loughborough University Sleep Research Centre, www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/hu/groups/sleep
[7] ibid
[8] Golz, M. et al. 2011. ‘Microsleep Episodes and Related Crashes During Overnight Driving Simulations’, http://drivingassessment.uiowa.edu/sites/default/files/DA2011/Papers/007_GolzSommer.pdf
[9] Department for Transport, www.thinkroadsafety.gov.uk
[10] Horne, J & Reyner, L. 1995. ‘Sleep Related Vehicle Accidents’, British Medical Journal
[11] ibid
[12] Sleep Apnoea Trust, www.sleep-apnoea-trust.org

 

Meg Munn MP won Parliamentarian of the Year 2009 - National Campaigner

nationalcampaigner2009Brake and Direct Line Insurance have awarded Meg Munn, MP for Sheffield Heeley, ‘Parliamentarian of the Year – National Campaigner’ for her determination to eradicate undiagnosed sleep apnoea in commercial drivers, a major cause of road crashes, and achievement of real results to improve the safety of UK road users.

Due to lifestyle and working conditions, truck drivers are much more susceptible to sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea sufferers are often tired during the day and are more likely to fall asleep at the wheel, lose control of their vehicle and crash. Sleep-related crashes often result in death or serious injury, as they tend to occur at high speeds, with the driver is unable to take any preventative action, such as braking, before the collision. Undiagnosed sleep apnoea may affect nearly one in six lorry drivers [1] and sleep apnoea suffers are seven times more likely to crash [2]. Up to 80,000 HGV drivers in the UK may be putting their own lives and the lives of others at risk by driving while suffering from the effects of sleep apnoea [3].

Meg first came across the issue when constituent Seb Schmoller contacted her, in early 2008, following the death of his nephew Toby Tweddell. Toby, 25, was killed on 8 August 2006 when a lorry ploughed into his car. The driver, Colin Wrighton, had fallen asleep at the wheel of his lorry. Following the crash, it was found that the medical profession had previously failed to diagnose him with sleep apnoea, an easily treatable disorder. Meg quickly realised that action needed to be taken at a national level.

Meg raised the subject in a Parliamentary debate, convincingly arguing that there was an urgent need for a change in regulation. She then secured a meeting with the Road Safety Minister in October 2009. Thanks to Meg’s thorough research and careful planning, the Minister was convinced of the need to act and committed to make changes to the medical examination form that commercial drivers must complete with their doctors before they can get their licence, to include checks for the symptoms of sleep apnoea. The Minister also promised to raise awareness of the issue among the medical profession. It is hoped that these steps will make a real impact on the detection of sleep apnoea in commercial drivers.

In 2010 Meg will continue to tackle the issue by working with business to raise awareness and encourage regular screening for commercial drivers. She is already in the process of organising a trial with a major firm to begin screening and offering treatment to their drivers. She hopes this will demonstrate the value of screening to other employers, and bring about widespread screening as an industry standard.

The awards were presented at Brake’s annual reception at the Houses of Parliament on the evening of Tuesday 19 January 2010.

Cathy Keeler, deputy chief executive of Brake, said: “Meg’s substantial efforts to raise awareness of the problems of undiagnosed sleep apnoea in commercial drivers will prevent many more lives being needlessly lost, and many more families being devastated. Brake is delighted to award Meg ‘Parliamentarian of the Year – National Campaigner’ for her tireless national campaigning in Parliament and with Government. I urge everyone to support Meg in her excellent work and look forward to hearing how her campaign develops in 2010 through her work to encourage businesses to screen their drivers for sleep apnoea and offer treatment where necessary.”

Meg Munn MP said: “I am delighted to receive the award. Toby Tweddell was killed by a lorry driver with undiagnosed Obstructive Sleep Apnoea. His uncle, my constituent, Seb Schmoller; Toby’s fiancée Jenny Crisp; and other members of Toby’s family have undertaken substantial work to raise awareness and change policy. This award is a tribute to their determination to prevent other families suffering the same heartache.”

Steve Treloar, Managing Director of Motor at Direct Line Insurance said: “As the UK’s number one direct car insurer we have a very real interest in ensuring that road safety issues remain part of the public and political agenda and real action is taken at a local and national level to avoid the tragedies that are still too common on our roads. We are proud to sponsor these awards and would like to congratulate Meg who has tirelessly campaigned to make a difference.”

Members of the public can nominate their MP for a Brake award by emailing ebooth@brake.org.uk. They can also visit the Brake website (www.brake.org.uk) to find out about how to support Brake’s work with families that have been affected by a road crash by helping to raise vital funds for Brake. You could take part in a parachute jump, organise a coffee morning or take part in a sponsored walk. To find out about these and other fundraising ideas, call Lisa Kendall on 01484 683294 or email lkendall@brake.org.uk

Photos of Meg receiving her award are available from Brake.

Direct Line

Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line is part of RBS Insurance, the second largest general insurer in the UK1 and is wholly owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group. Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0845 246 3761 or visiting www.directline.com Direct Line Insurance plc is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority. Registered office: 3 Edridge Road, Croydon, Surrey CR9 1AG. Registered in England and Wales no. 01810801. The Financial Services Authority’s Register can be accessed through http://www.fsa.gov.uk

[1]: Howard, Mark E., Desai, Anup V., Grunstein, Ronald R., Hukins, Craig, Armstrong, John G., Joffe, David, Swann, Philip, Campbell, Donald A. and Pierce, Robert J. ‘Sleepiness, Sleep-disordered Breathing, and Accident Risk Factors in Commercial Vehicle Drivers’, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 2004: 170, pp. 1014-21
[2]: Sleep Apnoea Trust, Website: www.sleep-apnoea-trust.org
[3]: Based on DfT figures showing there are approximately 500,000 active HGV drivers in the UK

Report 2 - Fit to drive?

Report 2 - Fit to drive?Published 2010

Drink and drug driving are among the most disgraceful social ills of the developed world. Although it's often claimed that drink driving is socially unacceptable, it still accounts for one in six road deaths. We don't know the exact extent of drug drive casualties, but we do know it is a growing menace. This report reveals a significant minority admit driving on drink or drugs, and examines misapprehensions that are likely to contribute to this ongoing problem.

Tired driving can also have catastrophic consequences, as illustrated in 2001, when the country woke up to the carnage caused by a driver who fell asleep and drove onto train tracks near Selby, causing 10 deaths. Years later, this survey demonstrates ongoing complacency and confusion about preventing fatigue at the wheel.

The recommendations for Government at the end of this report set out steps that must be taken to stamp out the devastation caused by people driving while impaired by drink, drugs or tiredness.

Main findings:

  • One in three (35%) admit driving after drinking alcohol (any amount) in the past year, a decrease from 51% who admitted this in 2003
  • Four in 10 (38%) admit 'morning after' drink driving, up from 28% in 2003
  • Nearly half (45%) believe they would need to consume two or more units for their driving to be affected, with one in seven (14%) believing it takes three or four units or more
  • More than half (53%) think there is a less than a one in four chance of being caught if they were to drive over the limit, while nearly a third (31%) think there is less than a one in ten chance.
  • One in 25 (4%) admit driving on drugs in the past year
  • Nearly three-quarters (74%) admit driving tired in the past 12 months, compared to 46% in 2003

Press releases from this report:

Breath-testing rate low and drivers know it, 14 April 2011
Driver tiredness on the rise 10 years on from Selby Crash, 28 February 2011
Morning after drink-driving on the rise, 14 December 2010
Millions risking lives through confusion over tired driving, 13 August 2010

Staying Sober: read the small print

Driving sober means more than avoiding alcohol when you are taking to the roads. Today we routinely take everyday medications that can affect our concentration and ability to drive safely. On their own, they can be dangerous. In combination with others, or with alcohol, they can be lethal, for you and for other road users.

New drug drive legislation came into force in England and Wales in 2015. In addition to illegal drugs, there are also eight prescription drugs that are included within the new law. But it’s important to remember that above and beyond that list, there is a broad range of prescription drugs that can also have an impact on concentration and therefore your ability to drive.

It is vital that you read the label and ask your healthcare professional about potential side-effects, interactions and safety concerns. So long as you are following the advice of a healthcare professional and your driving isn’t impaired you can continue to drive as usual and aren’t at risk of arrest.

The government advises drivers who are taking prescribed medication at high doses to carry evidence with them, such as prescriptions slips, when driving in order to minimise any inconvenience should they be asked to take a test by the police.

But Brake believes the warnings on medication are often not clear enough. They are also often in small print and therefore hard to spot. In some countries, warning labels are required to be more obvious and give clearer advice on driving.

In some cases these warnings tell you not to drive if you feel tired or impaired, so you need to be aware of your own reaction and use your own judgement on whether your thinking is impaired.

However, in reality it is very difficult to judge your own impairment. Don’t forget that a health condition can also create fatigue which can be exacerbated by medication. If you feel tired or drowsy, don’t take the risk – pull over or take another form of transport.

In addition, there has been a considerable increase in poly‐drug use by drivers in recent years and the road safety risk associated with driving after consuming drugs and alcohol at one time is extremely high. This applies to prescription drugs as well as illegal drugs.

Consuming a combination of drugs and alcohol, whether legal or illegal, leads to much greater accident risk when driving than a low concentration of the drug on its own. That’s one of the reasons why Brake’s pledge to never drive after drinking any alcohol or drugs is so important.

You may be below the drink-drive limit when it comes to alcohol, but if you are also taking a prescription medication that can cause impairment, you could be placing yourself in serious danger.

Octo Telematics, the number one global provider of telematics for the auto insurance industry, supports Road Safety Week and the pledges Brake has proposed on sober driving:

Drivers – I'll never drive after drinking any alcohol or drugs – not a drop, not a drag.

Everyone - I'll plan ahead to make sure I, and anyone I'm with, can get home safely and I'll never get a lift with drink/drug drivers. I'll speak out if someone's about to drive on drink or drugs.

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