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ARTICLE
Driving Into Darkness
If the industry is to move forward professionally, it needs to wake up to the dangers of driving tired – Mark Walsh looks at why mobile DJs are increasingly vulnerable and what steps they can take to ensure their own safety and that of others.

While I usually intend to keep my articles fun but also worthy of some serious thought and reflection, I’m afraid that the topic I’m covering in this issue is anything but light-hearted. The industry suffered a devastating loss back in May when Seb Knowles (also known as DJ Sparky B) – a DJ, radio host and much-loved personality – died in a road incident while driving home from a gig. In the hours and days that followed, Clive Hodghton – industry retailer and Seb’s close friend – was joined by countless others, paying their respects as tributes flooded social media.

Since then, Seb has been on my mind (as I’m sure he’s been on yours) and it was during this sobering time that I began to consider the many dangers that mobile DJs are exposed to each and every time we drive home from a gig. Often, we’re making these journeys at times when our bodies would (and should) be sleeping. This is cause for concern because at those times – late at night and in the early hours of the morning – we are in fact all less alert; other road users will be in the same unnatural state of awakeness as we are.

Problems

Unfortunately, we can’t really choose our working hours (other than saying yes or no to a particular gig) and if the demand is there for later club opening times and longer parties, it’s our job to provide the entertainment. For many Pro Mobile readers, 1am may be a fairly common time to finish an event, though some gigs may go on longer and leave you with a long drive home after a tiring night of work. What’s more, with the increasing popularity of DJs offering ‘all day services’, it’s now not uncommon for DJs to work from 10/11am in the morning setting up right through to packing away again in the early hours of the following morning. It’s a long and tiring day by any standards, making a long drive home afterwards potentially perilous.

For those DJs who also undertake club work, as Seb Knowles did, increased opening hours mean finishing even later; playing until as late as 4- or even 6am. I remember when venues used to be packed by 9pm, you’d play your biggest tune at midnight and the club would be emptied out at 2am! But those days are gone; bars and clubs operate later and punters want to party for longer.

While Seb wasn’t a father, I’d like to speak on a personal level about how starting a family can also affect your work and have significant implications as to what extent you can continue to live the ‘DJ lifestyle’. I remember when I had my girls… Gone were the days of finishing a gig at 2- or 3am and lying in bed the next day; they were holding me to ransom with early-morning wake-ups – 9am if I was lucky! I should quickly point out that I’m not saying losing a lie-in is the end of the world, but if you don’t get enough sleep and then have another gig later the same day then by the early hours of the next morning you’re bound to feel tired – 9am to 3am is an incredibly long day for anyone.

What I’m really trying to get at is that you have to make a decision on how to work this lifestyle around your family commitments. You play more gigs in order to provide for your kids and support your family financially, but, if anything, having children actually means putting yourself at even more risk than you did before.

So, I think it’s fair to say that as a DJ – whether mobile, club, or both – it’s inevitable that you will be working late, getting less sleep and therefore be more likely to get into a situation where you are driving tired. The fact that this is an issue we (collectively) haven’t really confronted shocks me. We’re so keen to progress as an industry, improving all the time, giving mobile DJs a professional name, but shouldn’t we, therefore, also be looking after ourselves? Should we not focus on how we can be professional when it comes to driving safely after gigs too? It is a pitfall of the industry, no doubt, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our utmost to ensure that we don’t drive tired and fall victim to accidents, whether caused by other road users or ourselves.

A 2007 study (reported in the Daily Mail*) found that 2.3 million motorists admitted to falling asleep at the wheel during the last 12 months, while tiredness is estimated to be responsible for more than 300 road deaths each year. The study also found that a fifth of motorway crashes are caused by fatigue and most commonly happen between midnight and 6am. This final point is perhaps the most worrying for those in the DJ community, as this is the period (the time when our body feels naturally tired) during which we’re usually driving home.

Experts have agreed that opening the window, turning up your music or talking to a passenger are not fail-safe methods for staying awake and alert. They may offer short-term reprise but fatigue will soon creep back in. So, what are the real solutions?
The full article can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 72, Pages 34-38.
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