Safety tips for long distance driving

There are various safety elements to consider when setting out on a long-distance drive, such as car maintenance, driver fatigue, and preparation for breakdowns. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), “Driver fatigue causes thousands of road accidents each year.” Further, these types of crashes are apparently 50% more likely to result in death or serious injury[1]. Equally as important as preparing yourself for the journey is preparing your car, which should be in a condition to be able to cope with the distance. Whether long distance driving is a regular occurrence for you, or only happens on the odd occasion, it’s vital to make sure you take various precautions to help keep you and others out of harm’s way.

Set off rested

A study by charity, Brake, revealed that 49 per cent of drivers admitted to driving after less than five hours sleep. Although it may not seem like a big deal, it’s vital to recognise the importance of being rested when getting behind the wheel. If you’re already running on a lack of sleep, the chances of becoming fatigued while driving will be significantly increased. Always be aware that you’re more likely to become tired if you set off particularly early. And, where possible, start your journey at least an hour after waking, and always after a good night’s sleep. According to a report on the effects of sleep deprivation by the University of Texas at Austin, participants’ ability to make quick decisions declined by 2.4 per cent after being deprived of sleep, whereas participants that were allowed to rest showed an increase in accuracy of 4.3 per cent. This shows a clear gap in cognitive ability between the rested and the unrested – something that can be the difference between life and death when on the road.

Avoid using cruise control

Although using cruise control can feel as though it makes your life easier, it can be dangerous to use when on long journeys. Not having to control your speed can have a hypnotic affect and increase the risk of losing focus.

Stock up on essentials

It’s always a good idea to have food and water with you when on long journeys, in case you get stuck anywhere for a long period of time. Taking things like blankets and hot drinks in thermal flasks is also wise if you’re travelling in cold weather. Breaking down in low temperatures can be potentially dangerous when not armed with things to keep warm.

Make sure your car is ‘ready to go’

It’s vital to check certain things on your car before setting off on a long journey. This includes:

Tyre tread – which should legally be a minimum depth of 1.6mm, and a recommended depth of 3mm.

Engine – check water coolant and oil levels to avoid the engine overheating or failing.

Windscreen – check that you have plenty of windscreen washer available for use, as a dirty windscreen can be fatal when it comes to spotting obstacles in the road.

Lights – don’t forget it’s a legal requirement to have fully working lights, which contribute not only to your own safety but to others on the road.

Take regular breaks

A study on long distance driving shows that the length of time driven directly correlates with tiredness and driving performance. The same study indicates that after two hours of continuous driving, driving performance begins to deteriorate, and after four hours, all driving performance indicators (reactions, attention, operating ability, perception) had changed significantly for the worse. Taking a fifteen minute break every two hours has been proven to reduce driver fatigue significantly. Just remember, taking a small nap in a safe place off the road, or even just resting, will do a lot more in reducing your fatigue than anything else. Things such as opening the windows, talking to passengers and turning up the music won’t do anything to reduce your fatigue.

Avoid driving through the night

Where you can, it’s best to avoid driving through the night. Not only does the darkness make it easier to nod off, your body will most probably be used to sleeping in these hours, making the urge to sleep inevitable. The National Sleep Foundation tell us that, “adults’ strongest sleep drive generally occurs between 2:00-4:00am,” and that this dip in our wakefulness will be even stronger if we are sleep deprived.

Plan ahead to avoid getting lost

Make sure you include fifteen minute breaks into your timescale when travelling. Otherwise you may find yourself rushing, leaving no time to rest, which could have potentially disastrous consequences. Planning ahead can also help you to avoid getting lost, leaving you less vulnerable to running out of petrol or struggling on roads you are unfamiliar with.

The science behind driver fatigue

Driving when tired is dangerous because of the way ‘sleepiness’ impairs our ability to perform the basic functions required to ensure safety when behind the wheel. Asides from actually falling asleep at the wheel, which has obvious disastrous consequences, just feeling sleepy can put us in serious danger. This is because sleepiness reduces our reaction time, our vigilance, alertness and concentration. In fact, according to WebMD, “Driving sleepy is like driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.8%”[2].


As a driver, it’s important to value all elements of road safety to keep yourself and others out of harm’s way. That includes having the right insurance. If you’re over the age of fifty and own a car, you may find our page on over 50s car insurance useful.

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