Autumn and winter months can make driving more difficult in many ways, not least the adverse weather conditions.

Another issue that arises is the shorter daylight hours.

Seasonal adjustments

Driving in the dark is more challenging. After all, you have to rely on the area lit up by headlights, or the  lazy glow of street lighting.

Twilight hours, whether morning or evening, winter or summer, remain the most dangerous as our eyes strain to acclimatise to changing light levels.

But as we endure shorter daylight hours of winter, our bodies, minds and eyesight is challenged more directly.

The holiday season means roads are likely to become busier. People shop around for presents, attend events, and visit family and friends around the country. Journeys can often be longer as people traverse the country, and concentration levels are strained. Not only is it darker for longer, traffic levels and congestion build too. All this can result in more incidents, crashes and casualties.

Staying alert behind the wheel is key, but also challenging.

Private hire specialist Zego have provided some top tips to help drivers wake up to potential pitfalls and stay safer.

Positive start

When planning a long drive, make sure to get plenty of rest before you leave. A good sleep is important for staying alert behind the wheel for long periods of time.

While this may be difficult, depending on your departure time, try to avoid driving for long periods of time straight after a day of working.

Going to bed early the night before and beginning your drive early the next day means you have plenty of daylight hours to complete the journey.

If you feel yourself becoming drowsy whilst driving, pull over at the nearest rest stop or service station. Rest, relax and even take a quick nap.

The Sleep Foundation recommends an optimal nap length of around 20 minutes for adults. Most service stations will allow you up to 2 hours of free parking. Be sure to set an alarm to prevent you from sleeping past this window.

Healthy eating and drinking

Be considerate of what you consume whilst on the road. Fuelling yourself is important for your driving performance.

In colder weather, the body has a diminished thirst response. This means that you are less likely to know when you are becoming dehydrated.

It’s important to drink plenty of water, otherwise, you are likely to feel sluggish and tired when you need to concentrate. Correct hydration and driving performance have been proven to be directly linked.

Aim to have breakfast before you leave, stop somewhere for lunch. Have an evening meal when you arrive to keep to a healthy eating schedule. All this ensures your body receives the energy it needs.

It is best to avoid heavy, greasy foods that can make you feel sleepy after consumption. Healthier snacks like fruit, nuts, or vegetables are better for keeping energy levels up. These can be brought along to eat throughout the journey without hindering driving while consuming.

Wait for your morning tea/coffee

Evidence from For Wellness suggests that it is better to wait up to 2 hours after waking, before consuming caffeine.

Adenosine isa compound in our body that builds up during the day and produces sleep pressure. It is typically cleared out at night, so we feel more alert when we wake up. If you do not sleep for long enough, any lingering adenosine will keep you feeling tired.

Consuming caffeine blocks your adenosine receptors. This means you feel alert for a short amount of time but can leave any lingering adenosine in your body ready to return. Waiting between 90 and 120 minutes before drinking coffee lets the adenosine clear out fully first. It means that you are likely to feel less tired later in the journey.

Engage the senses

Scheduling regular breaks during your driving day can be very beneficial. It rejuvenates the body and getting some fresh air after sitting down for a long time can be very transformative. In fact, the UK government recommends taking a 30-minute break after 5 hours of continuous driving. Generally, taking a short break every two hours of driving is recommended by all road safety and motoring organisations.

Fresh air is known to help clear your lungs, boost your mood, lower your heart rate, and increase energy levels. Even a half-hour break can improve the rest of the journey both mentally and physically.

If it is not possible to stop regularly, keep yourself focused and alert by engaging your senses in other ways. Open the windows slightly to let in some fresh air, or listen to some upbeat music to stimulate your mind. Talking with passengers is another way to stimulate the brain and raise concentration ability. However, remember top concentrate firstly on the road rather than any discussion topic.

Chewing some gum can also help enhance your ability to concentrate. Recent studies have shown it can enhance attention. being associated with higher productivity and cognitive thinking.

Avoid the darkness

Whilst sometimes unavoidable, try to avoid driving at night – it requires increased focus. There is lower visibility, potential fatigue, and the likelihood of heavier traffic due to shorter daylight hours in the winter.

Moreover, most night-time drivers are likely in the same drowsy state from pushing themselves past their limits. It can make it harder to predict other people’s actions. The way you then react may be compromised too, especially if you are fatigued yourself.

If possible, avoid starting a long trip when you would usually be sleeping or relaxing. Your body is used to resting at a certain time, and your focus is likely to be impaired.

Invest in tech

You can also make use of technology to automate parts of the driving experience. This enables you to better conserve your attention. Some cars have collision avoidance systems, blind spot monitoring can make you aware of other cars. A rear-view camera mirror can help you see everything happening behind you.

Some technology can assist in tracking your alertness levels to prevent potential accidents caused by becoming drowsy. These devices can work via face monitoring, although some smartwatches are able to track your activity levels and make you aware of potential fatigue. Road safety charity Brake says driver fatigue contributes to about 4% of fatal road crashes in Britain.

Lane departure and lane-keep warning systems are also helpful for avoiding crashes due to straying out of your lane. The system detects lane markings and alerts you if you are veering via a warning indicator, a vibration in the steering wheel, or an audible alert. This has been designed for motorway driving, where long distances and repetitive roads can lead to loss of attention.

Winter wise

“It’s vitally important that all drivers take the necessary precautions to keep themselves and others safe,” says Sten Saar, CEO of Zego. The majority of drivers they deal with are using vans and vehicles for work, often long days behind the wheel.

“The drivers we insure are no exception – in fact, they’re probably the most important people to use these tips and tricks since they spend so much time out on the roads. It’s imperative they stay safe because, in our view, they are key workers for our economy, not just over Christmas, but all year round.”

Over the festive period, and any time of the years when family holidays and visits typically take place, many other drivers can spend unusually long hours behind the wheel. Breasking for your normal routines is exciting, but also full of potential risks, Mix in shorter daylight hours and the road safety risk only increase.

Keeping a few sensible tips in mind can be a benefit to road users. For new and younger drivers, these tips can be even more important.