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Tired drivers mis-read a yawn

And poll shows popular ways to keep alert

Three-quarters of motorists open a window to keep themselves awake on a long journey, while 4% shake their head vigorously and 3% slap their face, according to new research.

More than a quarter (26%) have driven for four or more hours without a break, and 4% more than seven hours without a break, the study found.

The poll showed that only 18% of motorists always take a yawn as a sign to pull over.


Out of the 1,500 motorists polled by YouGov, in March, only one in five always plan breaks in their journeys, and just over half at least occasionally try to beat their journey time on a trip they have done before.

The government says one in five of all crashes on major roads are caused by tired drivers.

Road Safety Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: ‘We all want to finish our journeys as quickly as possible but being tired at the wheel is a proven killer that we cannot ignore.

‘People who drive for work are particularly at risk but there are simple steps we can all take to make our journeys safer. Plan regular stops into a long trip and if you find yourself yawning pull over and take a break – this could make the difference between life and death.’

Yawn warning

Dr Neil Stanley, a sleep expert from the Clinical Trials and Research Unit at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said: ‘People read a yawn all wrong – they often mistake the energising effect that comes immediately after as a sign they can carry on, but tests prove this is not the case.

‘Yawning quite simply means you’re on the road to falling asleep so if you’re yawning behind the wheel it really is time to pull over.’

The government’s road safety campaign called Think! advises:

  • don’t start a long trip if you’re already tired
  • plan your journey to include a 15-minute break every two hours
  • if you feel drowsy find a safe place to stop (not the hard shoulder)
  • as an emergency measure, drink two cups of coffee or a high-caffeine drink and have a rest for 10-15 minutes to allow time for the caffeine to kick in.

Journey planning sites

The latest strand in the campaign focuses on tired drivers.

It includes a hard-hitting radio advert featuring the actor Joseph Fiennes, online advertising on journey planning websites, partnership marketing and messaging at service station washrooms, forecourts and petrol pumps.

It has been primarily targeted at people who drive for work, as research shows they are at particular risk.

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