All these factors are likely to increase road risks. Drivers who have consumed alcohol are 17.8 times more likely to cause a fatal accident*. Nearly 30% of accidents are thought to be caused by fatigue, while some medicines can also represent a serious danger. Limiting anything that causes the loss of attention is therefore essential.
Fatigue: treat it beforehand
Fatigue is a key problem as it can lead to falling asleep at the wheel. It is usually caused by a lack of sleep, so it is necessary to act as early as possible, before it becomes an issue.
Adopting good habits, such as making sure we get enough sleep, and on a regular schedule, as well as eliminating common activities like staying up late and looking at a screen, which affects both the length and quality of rest, are crucial. If not, sleepiness can occur the next day, especially during monotonous periods, such as when driving. “At the first signs of fatigue, drivers must stop their vehicle because the risk of having an accident within half an hour is three or four times more likely,” explains Professor Damien Léger, President of the Scientific Board of the French Institute of Sleep and Vigilance (INSV).
Drivers are advised to take a break every 2 hours. When driving after a long day, you should be aware that 17 hours of active wakefulness is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.5 g. It can be useful to note that new generations of vehicles can help to detect and report a driver’s reduced alertness.
Drinking and driving: zero tolerance
Although the tolerated blood alcohol level differs from country to country in Europe, drink-driving is still one of the main causes of road accidents. In France and Spain, for example, it is estimated that about a third of fatal accidents involve a driver with a blood alcohol level above the authorised threshold (0.5 g/l of blood); the risk of an accident is tripled with a blood alcohol level of 0.8 g/l.
The risk for the lorry drivers goes beyond driving. It also includes falling objects when entering the cab, as well as dangers associated with handling goods and tarpaulins. Keep in mind that a single glass of alcohol represents a blood alcohol level of 0.2 g/l: it soon goes up! Installing an alcohol ignition lock is an option to make sure one does not take the wheel in a state of inebriation. This is a device preventing the vehicle’s ignition if the driver’s alcohol level is beyond the legal maximum, or beyond the level set by the vehicle’s owner. For complete peace of mind, strictly abstaining from drinking when you have to take the wheel is yet the only solution.
Self-medication: when treatment can cause an accident
Perceived as harmless or routine, taking medication is not a trivial matter. While often done to improve one’s ability to work, self-medication can, on the contrary, cause accidents. In winter, many drivers use medicines to combat flu symptoms. Some of them contain ingredients that can cause serious drowsiness, sending the driver to sleep without warning.
To avoid risks, taking steps to educate and inform drivers is the best solution. Drivers should be reminded to always check whether their medication is compatible with driving, and to seek the advice of a pharmacist or doctor if in doubt. Similarly, a reminder of the possible consequences of taking medication is highly effective, even if needed several times throughout the year. This would also provide an opportunity to reiterate that care is needed both with regard to long-term treatments (e.g. for diabetes, blood pressure, etc.) and occasional ones (for pain, fever, etc.).
Lastly, it is important to remember that road risks are even higher when a lack of sleep, drinking, and self-medication are combined. All causes considered, the number of road fatalities in the 27 EU Member States fell by 23% between 2010 and 2019, and by 2% between 2018 and 2019. To continue this downward trend, new European legislation will require several safety features on all new vehicle models from 2022 onwards.
*Source: French road safety agency