Why the most dan­ger­ous ‘bad step’ is be­hind the wheel

Trail (UK) - - Outdoor Opinion -

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.

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