On 28 February 2001 Gary Hart was driving in the dark on the M62 motorway when he lost control of his vehicle. Later investigations revealed he was sleep-deprived and failed to apply the brakes. The car and it's trailer careered down the embankment onto the East Coast main railway line, where it was struck by an InterCity 225 train. Ten people died in the ensuing carnage and 82 were seriously injured.
Every year I hear stories from people who work in those consultancies (you know the ones I mean). They describe doing back to back sunset and dawn bat surveys, day after day, often with long journeys between and I can't help thinking of Gary Hart. He was sentenced to jail for five years, but I suspect a much bigger punishment for him was the knowledge of ten lives lost and 82 more whose lives were changed forever.
Selby was clearly exacerbated by circumstances, but imagine a head-on collision at 60mph. With a closing speed of 120mph it's entirely possible that you, your passengers and the family of five in the other car would all die or suffer life-changing injuries. And it would only take a moment's inattention.
With the new survey season approaching I thought it might be time to share a few thoughts on ways to limit the risks associated with driving to and from bat surveys at night, so here are my top ten suggestions.
1. Get to know what your level of tolerance is for fatigue and stay well inside it. How will you recognise when your abilities are impaired? You need to know. Be aware that your tolerance for fatigue decreases with age - I'm 56 and I can see a noticeable difference between now and a decade ago.
2. Heroes are those who save lives by being sensible. Pushing yourself beyond your limits to get that one last piece of survey work completed doesn't make you a hero - it definitely makes you the other thing.
3. Plan your workload and your sleep patterns. Within our team we avoid back to back sunset/dawn surveys like the plague and our full-timers are encouraged to take time off during the day to rest and ensure they are fresh when they need to be.
4. If you're under pressure to go beyond sensible limits you need to think carefully about what your options are, but you must address the issue. Dont fall into the trap of thinking it'll be fine, because one day it won't.
5. Do everything you can to keep your mind active whilst driving. I use talking books from Audible to help me stay alert - listening and thinking about what I'm hearing keep my brain fully functional. Music may help some people, but I worry that rhythmic sounds may be counter-productive.
6. If you have passengers in the car, get them to help. The best person ever for this (she knows who she is) was a member of our team who could sit in the front passenger seat and talk continuously and animatedly for two hours about her pet ferrets, horse-riding, pole-dancing, her various part-time jobs and heaven knows what else - it was impossible to doze off with that going on!
7. I hope your car's fully serviced. with good tyres etc, but there are things you can do to reduce your workload. Make sure your windscreen is clean - bugs, smears etc are much more obvious in the headlights and peering through a murky wind-screen is not going to help you.
8. Are your headlights clean? It is gob-smacking how much less effective they are with even a thin layer of traffic film. I use my headlight washers at least once every journey. If your car doesn't have washers then carry a wet cloth in a bag and wipe them before setting off in the dark. The more forward illumination you have the easier it is to focus on driving safely.
9. You're in a hurry to get home - aren't we all, when it's 2am and a warm bed is calling? You know what I'm going to say - drive to the road conditions and resist that massive temptation to put your foot to the floor, especially on winding country roads.
10. If you recognise that you're fatigued, whatever you do, don't press on regardless. I find power naps suprisingly effective. Recline your seat and set an alarm for 20 minutes (no more than that or you risk going into a deep sleep and waking up more tired than you started). Close your eyes and empty your mind. If that doesn't work then it's time to accept that you've got it wrong and either dig out the sleeping bag or find the nearest Travelodge.
Please don't think this is a definitive guide - I'm not a sleep expert or an advanced driving instructor. But we work in an industry that tends to overlook this issue or worse, treat it as a macho thing. And that's just plain stupid.
Keep up to date with the latest posts Facebook.com/Davidsbatblog