Work Accidents Whilst Driving

Too tired to work?

Every driver has seen the signs at the side of the motorway. Tiredness kills – take a break. But according to research released by the Government, sleep-related vehicle accidents (SRVAs) are on the increase, and those most at risk are drivers who have to drive high mileage as part of their work.

The data collected by the Department of Transport has suggested that insufficient sleep and disrupted circadian rhythms (biological rhythms that include the internal ‘clock’, which influences when, how much, and how well people sleep) contribute not only to major public health issues in general, but to road traffic accidents in particular. The average night’s sleep in the UK has fallen by an hour and a half every night and with the current pressure on employees to work harder and longer hours, many drivers may be asked or even feel pressurised into doing extra shifts, work into the evening or accept very early morning starts as part of their working day. Concerns about performance, promotion and just plain, old job security worries may also make people feel pressurised into working longer hours. Apart from the usual irritability, inefficiency and general ill health that sleep depravation can lead to, the most concerning issue is the effect tiredness has on the ability to concentrate and drive safely.

There are currently no tests to measure or quantify levels of sleep depravation at the scene of a road traffic accident, but Government research has shown that a fifth of all motorway collisions are believed to be the result of drivers falling asleep at the wheel. One in ten crashes on all UK roads are associated with driver fatigue.

Whilst heavy goods drivers have some measure of protection in the form of strict regulations regarding how many hours they can be at the wheel, small firms with perhaps a fleet of vans or sales staff working in the field have no such protection. Travelling sales staff can often log excessive hours behind the wheel, particularly if they have a large ‘patch’ to cover. Although every single one of these drivers knows the risks of fatigue at the wheel, the pressure to ‘get the job done’ is often so great that they take unnecessary risks with both their own and other people’s safety on the road by driving whilst tired. A Gallup poll revealed that 52% of drivers admit to driving whilst tired and at least 100,000 accidents a year involve driver fatigue. Is the driver at fault, or is it the fault of the company, pushing their workers to clock up extra miles and extra hours behind the wheel?

Employers have a duty of care towards every employee, whether they’re based in an office or out on the road. It is really up to the employer to note if a worker is spending excessive hours behind a wheel and to rectify that situation to prevent a possible accident and subsequent claim. Companies with fleets of vehicles pay a great deal in insurance premiums, so it is in their interest to make sure that their drivers are fit to do their job as safely as possible. Otherwise they could find their insurance premiums climbing rapidly if the organisation suffers a spate of accidents due to driver fatigue. You wouldn’t ask someone who’s worked a 12-hour day to operate a complex piece of machinery in a workshop, so why is it assumed that asking them to drive a car or van (a complex piece of machinery) under the same conditions is acceptable?

Specialist claims solicitors who work specifically in the accidents at work arena are hoping that, by drawing attention to the alarming statistics that surround SRVAs, they may see a decline in the number of claims brought where driver fatigue is cited as the primary cause of the accident. But the concern is that with continued economic pressure to perform, a target-orientated work environment and worries over job security, drivers are still dicing with their lives and those of other road users by driving whilst tired.

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