Are you thinking of driving far on the summer holiday this year? I drive across France every August, a round trip of about 1,500 miles.
As a city dweller, living within 100 yards of a bus stop, it is the only long journey I regularly make by car.
I mention it because my wife and I are aware that we don’t drive quite as well as we did (she being much better than I am) as well as increasingly conscious how much damage a car accident can do - and how quickly, as any accident and emergency staffer can confirm.
On a French motorway last year we saw the miracle of a huge lorry brought to a standstill without injury after bouncing along the central reservation for 200 yards.
Ten miles on, two small cars had clipped each other and flipped: a dead body lay by the road.
Labour MP Meg Munn has her own take on road accidents.
She thinks many more of them than is realised are caused by obstructive sleep apnoea, the disorder by which a sufferer’s upper airway repeatedly closes, causing one or more breath to be missed, in clinical terms, at least five times an hour.
Result? A systemic shortage of sleep leading to a tendency to fall asleep during the day. People who are unhealthy and obese are especially vulnerable, long distance (and sedentary) lorry drivers being a prime example.
Joe the Fat Boy in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers displays classic symptoms, although they were not defined until 1965.
Unlike Joe you can do a lot of harm dozing in a modern lorry. But the condition can also hurt the sufferer: higher blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, that sort of thing.
On some estimates one person in 15 has an apnoea. At £1,000 of extra costs per head to the NHS, it is real money.
Do GPs pick it up enough? No, says the MP for Sheffield Heeley and her allies.
Does the department of transport sufficiently monitor the risks to middle aged drivers? Yes, say ministers. No, says Munn, whose interest in the subject arose from the death of 25-year-old Toby Tweddell, hit on the M62 near Liverpool by a lorry driver with the condition.
My own attention was drawn to apnoea (there are three kinds) at Easter.
Heading towards Cornwall in slow moving traffic on the A303 I ploughed into the 4x4 in front. Apart from my wife’s painfully bruised chest, caused by her seat belt, no real harm done except that I wrote off my perfectly good car. Boy, how easily they crumple!
What happened? I may have dozed.
“Sleep apnoea,” said my wife, who likes labels.
I think not. Nor does the GP. I have always been able to sleep easily and already wear a gum shield device to keep the throat open and stop me snoring. It works for me.
Properly diagnosed apnoea has a cure, a device called a continuous positive airway pressure machine, worn over the nose at night, which can sort out a truckie’s problem in a fortnight without jeopardising his HGV licence - provided apnoea is diagnosed.
The Department of Transport says it sends GPs advice. Not enough, says Munn.
In the week when the latest Nuffield health study shows how little the government’s Change4Life campaign has changed our lazy national habits I can’t help thinking that Dickens’ Joe the Couch Potato must take more care.
We all know “Tiredness Kills,” but do we take enough breaks on lay-bys, which France provides more generously than Britain to keep us out of A&E? Probably not, but since our A303 crash Mrs White and I now alternate driving every hour. Just in case.