Why the most dangerous ‘bad step’ is behind the wheel
Load kit, pile in the car, out of suburbia, hammer up the motorway. Coffee, pee break, quick leg stretch. Back in the car, no faff.
More hours, turn up the tunes, this is the junction, vista shifts and ahh… I feel the hulking mass of mountains nearby. Let the adventure begin.
Two long days in the hills – climb, walk, scramble. Pub. Tent. Late night, early morning, we’ve got the rest of the week to recover. Sunday – let’s make it a full day. I don’t mind driving, we’ll get back in time to chuck some washing on and set an alarm for Monday morning. Wind down the windows, turn up the tunes, I need a coffee before we get going. Familiar?
Many of us are drawn to the hills for the personal challenge, the fresh air and full memories. For the sense of judging risk and reward, and profiting from sound decisions well executed. The tricky step, the long traverse, the epic sunrise. But for most of us the real risk begins when we walk into the car park. That’s because the most dangerous, and least considered element of the weekend is the drive home.
We all know that driving tired is stupid. But we do it. Studies available on the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) website indicate driver fatigue causes thousands of road accidents a year, and is a contributory factor in a quarter of fatal and serious accidents. A driver who’s fallen asleep – even momentarily – can’t brake, swerve or do anything else that might reduce the damage of a high-speed impact. Even if you don’t actually fall asleep, tiredness will slow your reactions and affect your judgement. However good a driver you think you are, you become a bad driver when you are tired. A dangerous driver. A potential murderer.
The risk factors RoSPA highlight? Driving for more than a couple of hours at the end of a day’s work, driving on less sleep than normal, driving on monotonous roads like motorways, driving in the dark, and driving in the early hours of the morning. Which pretty much describes most of my mountain weekenders. And if I’m trying to get home, or I have a car full of friends in a hurry, then the pressure is on to keep going. But the reality is I could kill myself, or my friends, or the family in the oncoming car. Maybe I’ll be lucky and just end up losing my licence, or serving a term at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
We drivers need to take responsibility for this, and passengers need to feel okay about speaking up, too. Plan a 20-minute break every two hours and, if you’re feeling tired, have a nap. Caffeine helps as a temporary measure – but needs time to kick in. Split the journey, share the driving and sleep when it’s not your stint. If it’s been a long week at work, get the train and hire a car at the other end.
The bottom line is this: if you have to, resist the ever-increasing lure of the hills. Don’t drive if you’re not fit to, ever. Stop and sleep. Better late than dead.