An estimated four million UK drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel, according to new research released this week. The study by IAM Roadsmart, formerly known as the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), found one in 10 motorists admitted to momentarily closing their eyes through tiredness.

IAM Roadsmart’s study, which quizzed a “representative sample” of 1,000 British motorists, also revealed more than half of drivers were concerned about fatigue when driving long distances. With more than 40 million drivers in the UK, that means around four million motorists have nodded off behind the wheel, while more than 20 million are concerned about doing so.

The survey also found around four in 10 drivers admitted they had felt the need to turn down the heating or roll down the windows in a bid to ward off the symptoms of tiredness. And around a quarter of the drivers questioned said they had taken the more responsible option of pulling over in a service station to grab a cup of coffee or a rest.

Tired woman sleeping while driving a car

IAM Roadsmart has described the findings as “shocking” and “worrying”, given the prevalence of drivers feeling drowsy at the wheel. The safety organisation points out that with a car covering more than 100 feet a second at 70 mph, even “the briefest lapse in concentration when driving can have devastating consequences”.

Neil Greig, IAM Roadsmart’s director of policy and research said the issue of tiredness while driving was a concern. He advised motorists to plan long trips and ensure there’s somewhere to create a break in the journey.

“Fatigue behind the wheel is a very serious problem, perhaps more concerning than previously thought of,” said Greig. “It is shocking to think a potential four million drivers have closed their eyes behind the wheel because they were so tired, even if it was just for a short time. The potential carnage that could result from even one accident doesn’t bear thinking about.”

“Driving a long distance needs pre-planning to ensure there are plenty of available rest places and to make sure there’s enough time to complete the journey if delays are encountered. Never drive for longer than two hours without a break and take particular care if driving when you would normally be asleep. This is even more important as the country reopens after the pandemic and not all facilities may be available yet.

“Drivers can then concentrate on staying alert behind the wheel rather than staving off tiredness by trying to reach their end destination without adequate rest breaks.”

Tired women with seat reclined sleeping in car