The widow of the victim of the Selby rail disaster spoke out today as research showed that nearly half of motorists are putting lives at risk by driving while tired. Train driver Steve Dunn was one of six people killed when a sleep-deprived motorist crashed off the road and plunged onto tracks, causing two trains to collide in 2001. In response to the tragedy, road safety charity Brake carried out a survey which found that 45% of drivers have gotten behind the wheel in the last year after having less than five hours' sleep. And 10% of the 1,000 people surveyed last year drive on less than five hours' sleep at least once a month.
Mr Dunn's widow, Mary, told GMTV: "The problem is, lack of sleep is not as measurable as alcohol is. But they have now proved that driving without sleep is equivalent to being over the legal limit for alcohol." She said people tend not to take the issue so seriously because it is more difficult to prove.
Brake Chief Executive Mary Williams said: "The Selby rail crash was the catalyst for us to ask drivers how much sleep they had had and we found drivers were prepared to admit to having less than five hours' sleep, and this is an extraordinary shocking finding." So people do not seem to be changing their behaviour in the wake of the Selby rail disaster. "Today's results are extremely disturbing. 20% of crashes on monotonous roads such as motorways are caused by tired drivers." Drivers need to wake up to the fact that tiredness and driving are a potentially lethal combination. If you risk getting behind the wheel not having had enough sleep, you risk killing yourself and other innocent road users.
"If you intend to drive it is vital that you have a good night's sleep and take the necessary steps to combat tiredness on long journeys."
The Brake survey was released as a Government campaign warning drivers of the dangers of tiredness was relaunched. The Charity has warned drivers to make sure they get enough sleep before setting out off on a journey, and it offered advice to people who feel sleepy while driving. Brake advises motorists to take a break at least every two hours and make sure that these breaks are planned into the journey time. They should stop for at least 15 minutes and drink coffee or an energy drink with caffeine, snooze for 10 minutes or so by setting an alarm clock, and only drive when they feel alert.
Winding down the window or turning up the radio does not keep drivers awake, Brake has said.
The survey backs up research carried out by academics that showed that lack of sleep is seriously detrimental to the ability to drive safely. Researchers at Loughborough University's Sleep Research Centre show that after only five hours' sleep, drivers have only a one in 10 chance of staying fully awake on a lengthy journey. If you do drive tired, research shows that it is impossible to stop yourself nodding off at the wheel. Professor Jim Horne said: "If these drivers realised that by driving while tired they are just as impaired as if they were well over the legal drink-drive alcohol limit, then they might have second thoughts."
Nigel Charlesworth, spokesman for motoring organisation Green Flag Motoring Assistance, which commissioned the survey added: "Despite tiredness being a major cause of road deaths, the research demonstrates that a significant number of drivers still underestimate the dangers.
"We hope these shocking results will act as a wake-up call for drivers to realise that driving while tired puts their own and other road users' lives at risk, and is really just as unacceptable and dangerous as drink or drug-driving."
Brake, with Green Flag's support, is using today's survey to call on the Government to take steps to prevent tired driving.
Mr Dunn was one of six people killed when a GNER express train travelling from Newcastle to London was derailed and collided with a fully-laden freight train travelling in the opposite direction.
The disaster, on 28 February 2001, was caused when builder Gary Hart's Land Rover and trailer plunged off the M62 motorway and came to rest on the East Coast main line near Great Heck.
Moments later it was struck at high-speed by a passenger train. Hart, of Strubby, Lincolnshire, was later convicted of 10 counts of causing death by dangerous driving after he fell asleep at the wheel and was sentenced to five years in prison at Leeds Crown Court.
Those who died in the disaster were Mr Dunn, Alan Ensor, Barry Needham, Ray Robson, Robert Shakespeare, Paul Taylor, Christopher Terry, Clive Vidgen and John Weddle.
An inquest last September found the six passengers and four railway staff who died in the Selby train disaster were unlawfully killed.
© 2004 Press Association News, U.K.