Drivers are being advised to take simple steps to avoid falling asleep at the wheel as the holiday season starts and many families prepare for long distance travel to destinations across the UK and Europe.

Road safety charity Brake and Direct Line today reveal more than half of drivers (55%) are ignoring basic advice to take rest breaks at least every two hours on long journeys, while one in ten (9%) don’t stop at all on long journeys unless they absolutely have to. Many also admit failing to get enough sleep the night before a long journey, as less than half (45%) make sure they get at least seven hours’ sleep.

Brake and Direct Line are warning families gearing up for long holiday journeys that too little sleep and too few breaks radically affects your ability to drive safely. After five hours’ sleep you only have a one in ten chance of staying fully awake on a lengthy journey.

The survey of 1,000 drivers from across the UK by Brake and Direct Line showed widespread complacency about the risks of tired drivers on long journeys. It found:

  • Male drivers are far more likely to drive for longer periods without stopping. 14% of male drivers have driven for six hours or more without stopping, compared with 3% of female drivers.
  • Half of male drivers (50%) have driven for four hours or more without stopping, compared with a third (31%) of females.
  • A third of drivers (35%) admit sometimes or always trying to push on if they feel sleepy at the wheel. 38% of males do this compared to 31% of females.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, the road safety charity, said: “A large proportion of the driving public are scarily confident they can push on through on long drives without stopping. In reality, regular breaks – at least every two hours – are essential for staying alert and awake, as is getting plenty of sleep the night before. Sleepiness can catch you unawares at the wheel and it only takes a couple of seconds on a motorway to cause absolute carnage. The summer means long journeys for many families hoping to catch some sun at the coast or abroad. Brake is warning that to make sure you and your loved ones get there safely you need to allow plenty of time to take it easy, take regular rest breaks, and ensure you get a full night’s sleep beforehand.”

Rob Miles, head 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. Whilst tired drivers may think that stopping for a break will increase their journey time, it’s not worth the risk to themselves, their passengers or other road users. It is better to get there late than not to arrive at all.”

The facts

Driver tiredness is one of the biggest killers on our roads. In the UK driver tiredness is estimated to cause one in five deaths on trunk roads. In 2011 in Great Britain it was reported 84 people were killed and 420 suffered serious injuries in tiredness related crashes, although the real figure could be higher, because it can be difficult to prove when a crash is caused by a driver falling asleep. They tend to be high‐speed crashes, because drivers do not brake before crashing, so the risk of death or serious injury is greater.

Calls to government

Brake supports recent government proposals to allow drivers who oversleep at motorway service stations to pay for their parking retrospectively to avoid a fine.

But it calls for more to be done to help drivers by creating more stopping places for drivers to take a break and more government advertising on the risks of driving tired, raising awareness about the importance of not embarking on a journey while tired, and steps to take if you start to feel drowsy at the wheel. We also need greater crash protection on trunk roads, such as longer crash barriers over bridges, to reduce the severity of crashes if they do happen.

Action to tackle tired driving among fleet drivers is also needed because an estimated four in ten tired driver crashes involves a commercial vehicle driver. Brake recommends regular testing of people who drive for work for sleep apnoea, a treatable condition that makes falling asleep at the wheel much more likely, thought to be particularly widespread among HGV drivers. Brake also believes the rules controlling hours that can be driven by truck and bus drivers should be extended to cover fleet drivers in vans and cars.

Read about Brake’s Driving for Zero campaign

Driver advice Get plenty of sleep before a journey, plan your journey to include time for adequate rest and don’t set out if you are already tired. Take rest breaks at least every two hours for a minimum of 15 minutes.

If you feel tired when driving, listen to the warning signs straight away and stop for a break somewhere safe as soon as you can. Sleep ensues faster than you think – trying to fight off sleep by opening the window or listening to the radio puts you at risk of ‘microsleeps’, when you nod off for two to 30 seconds without remembering it. Microsleeps can be fatal: at 70mph a driver travels 200m in six seconds. However, fatigue can even affect your ability to drive safely long before microsleeps occur.

If you start to feel sleepy while driving stop for at least a 15 minute break somewhere safe. If you drink caffeine, drink two cups of coffee or preferably a high‐caffeine energy drink, then take a 10‐15 minute snooze. By the time you wake up any caffeine will have kicked in and you may feel alert enough to continue your journey. If you still feel tired, or you still have a long way to go, you should stay put and try to find somewhere to get a good night’s sleep. Caffeine is a temporary drug and its effects do not last long. Sleep is the only long‐term cure to tiredness.


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 car, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or on-line.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. U K 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 0345 878 5587 or visiting