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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 15:49 GMT
Driver fatigue: A big killer
Selby train crash
Hart's Land Rover was stranded on the rail track
The Selby rail crash happened after driver Gary Hart fell asleep at the wheel of his Land Rover and veered onto the railway line. Here, BBC News Online looks at the dangers of driver fatigue.

Nearly 45,000 Britons die or are seriously injured in road accidents every year and road safety experts say driver fatigue is a major cause.

It is estimated to be responsible for a fifth of all accidents on motorways and trunk routes and one in 10 accidents on minor roads.

People run a higher risk of succumbing to driver fatigue between 2am and 6am and during what is known as the "2pm slump".

Drivers know they are tired yet they put their own lives and those of other road users at risk

Kevin Clinton
And the total time a driver has spent behind the wheel is not as important as the amount of sleep they have had, with sleep deprived drivers more likely to be affected.

The basic rule is anything less than five hours with your head on the pillow is not enough. Seven or eight hours is thought to be the ideal for people to function at their peak.

During his trial Gary Hart admitted he had stayed up most of the night before the Selby rail crash in a marathon phone conversation with a woman he met over the internet.

Professor Jim Horne, the director of the Sleep Research Laboratory at Loughborough University, told BBC News Online that an accident was inevitable after such little sleep.

Selfish drivers

"He would have been struggling to stay awake within 20 minutes of starting his journey," he said.

"An accident was inevitable. If it hadn't happened where it did, it would have been somewhere else."

Professor Horne said more sleep-related accidents happened on motorways because there were fewer things of interest to look at.

Gary Hart
Gary Hart: Denied the charges
According to research drivers under 30 are most affected and that in most sleep-related accidents, the drivers are men.

These drivers take more risks and seem to think they can carry on at the wheel even though they are tired, said Professor Horne.

The research also found that common techniques drivers use to try and stay awake, such as winding down the window, are largely ineffective.

Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) told BBC News Online that sleepy motorists were just as irresponsible as drink drivers.

Kevin Clinton, RoSPA Head of Road Safety, said: "Drivers know they are tired and yet they put their own lives and those of other road users at risk because it is more convenient for them to do so.

High risk occupations

"They do not want to delay their journey and so they deliberately continue to drive knowing they are not in a fit state. They are making a conscious decision to do this, and they have only themselves to blame if things go wrong.

"Selby was an unusual combination of circumstances, but it demonstrated the full horror we can face because of selfish drivers who are not honest enough to admit they are a menace on the road."

High risk occupations include night-shift workers, airline crew, students, commercial drivers, medical staff, sales representatives and journalists.

If drivers start shuffling in their seats and winding down windows for fresh air they are a menace on the road

Professor Jim Horne
A spokesman for the AA's Head of Road Safety said companies should start looking at the problem more seriously.

"A motorist's workplace plays a big part in driver drowsiness whether it's commuting or driving to work over long distances and time periods," he said.

"In reality, the health and safety staff need to start getting interested in road accidents among their work employees before these figures can be reduced.

"It's just a matter of employees and employers being more aware."

The BBC's Kevin Bocquet at Leeds Crown Court
"It was a tragedy of horrific proportions."
See also:

13 Dec 01 | England
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