Many drivers in the UK take the time to check their vehicle for any potential problems before heading out on a long journey, but how many make sure they’re feeling well enough to drive before getting behind the wheel?

According to GEM Motoring Assist, the number is not high enough, and it believes if drivers make the effort to ensure they’re fit and healthy before taking to the roads safety can be improved.

Tiredness

Something as innocent as eating a large meal before travelling can make motorists significantly more drowsy, as can consuming lots of sugary substances, and this is something that must be taken into account. A lack of exercise, which is a particular problem during the cold, dark winter months, also contributes to tiredness.

However, perhaps by far the greatest chance of a person experiencing severe drowsiness behind the wheel comes from trying to deal with a minor health problem. GEM has been making efforts to ensure drivers know the dangers of taking over-the-counter medicines to deal with coughs and colds, then getting behind the wheel.

“It is vital that motorists who are taking medication consult their doctor or pharmacist to check that the drug will not adversely affect their driving. Regrettably too often the warnings on medicine packaging are vague and difficult to find,” David Williams, chief executive officer of the company, explained.

What’s more, in the eyes of the law a person who’s driving ability is impaired because of legal medication can face the same penalties as those driving under the influence of illegal drugs.

Eyesight

The government has strict requirements dictating the standard a person’s eyesight needs to meet before they are allowed to drive.

When applying for a license, motorists must let the DVLA know if they have a condition which affects both eyes or their sight, which does not include short or long sightedness or colour blindness. People must also declare if they have had vision correction surgery.

During the driving examination, people will be required to perform an eyesight test, which involves reading a number plate on a parked car at a distance of 20 metres. If a motorist needs to wear glasses or contact lenses to pass this test, they are then required to wear them each time they get behind the wheel.

Drivers must also ensure they regularly get their eyesight checked to make sure they keep on top of any changes and their glasses and contact lenses reflect their current prescription, which is a legal requirement.

Although age is not always a factor in increasing levels of tiredness and poorer eyesight, older people are generally more likely to experience these problems, as well as a loss of hearing. This is why Brake is among those calling for an annual health check for drivers over the age of 70.

“These checks should also be required every five years for drivers under the age of 70, as health can deteriorate at any age,” chief executive of the charity Cathy Keeler said.

Stress

In recent years stress has been recognised as presenting a serious health problem, and one which more people are experiencing.

Stress behind the wheel can cause serious impairments to a person’s driving ability, as well as contribute to an increased number of road rage incidents.

What’s more, a study conducted by an expert at the University of Sussex, in conjunction with the Greener Journeys campaign, found there are hidden mental health problems created from regularly driving in heavy traffic.

There were three key factors said to contribute to this; the extra attention and mental strain presented by travelling in heavy traffic, the rise in blood pressure and physical tension caused by congestion and delays, and the frustration of wasting time behind the wheel.

Dr David Lewis, who led the study, explained: “EDR (Electro-Dermal Response) can be a hidden stress – it’s not as visible as ‘white knuckle driving’ or audible as road rage. This type of stress can have long-term physiological and emotional implications.”
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