It’s easy to underestimate the effect fatigue can have on a driver. In fact, according to research driver fatigue is a major contributing factor in up to 20% of all road traffic fatalities - even more than drugs or alcohol.*
The primary cause of fatigue is clear: insufficient sleep - either short-term (less than 5 hours sleep in the last 24 hours) or long-term (less than 12 hours sleep in the last 48 hours and less than 50 hours sleep in the preceding week). Other contributing factors can also include a driver’s eating pattern, fitness and general health.
With many hours spent on the road driving long, straight roads at relatively constant speed, safe drivers know to be vigilant for signs of fatigue – especially between 2-5am, and during a ‘sleepy dip’ around 2pm.
Recognise the warning signs
Drivers suffering from fatigue may begin to exhibit a number of symptoms:
- Poor verbal communication
- Yawning and eye-rubbing
- Low concentration
- Taking shortcuts
- Head nodding
- Blinking eyes
- Micro sleeps
Manage your fatigue
There’s no shortcut to managing fatigue – rolling down your window and turning up your radio won’t keep you focused if you’re suffering from fatigue. The only long-term solution is to plan for sufficient sleep – it’s recommended to aim for around 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night for most people.
Besides ensuring you get a good night’s sleep before a long journey, you can reduce the risk of developing fatigue by taking the following precautions:
- Following a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise;
- Ensuring you are medically fit, including seeing your doctor if you suspect you have sleep apnea - a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, leading to disturbed sleeping patterns;
- Never operating your vehicle when tired, ill, or when any other condition reduces your driving ability
- Creating and following a journey management plan for every journey;
- Taking frequent breaks - stop driving every couple of hours, leave your vehicle and walk around;
- Never driving more than 2 hours without a 15 minute break; and
- Avoiding heavy meals during a long journey.
If you do experience fatigue while driving, you should follow these simple rules:
- Stop: Pullover to a safe location and call your supervisor;
- Revive: Have a 15-20 minute nap; and,
- Survive: Continue driving only until you reach a place where you can have a proper sleep at an approved rest area.
Remember, fatigue is a 'shared' hazard – a fatigued driver is a risk not only to their own safety, but to the safety of other road users too. Don’t be part of the next statistic – manage your fatigue responsibly, and arrive alive.
* http://www.tac.vic.gov.au/road-safety/statistics/summaries/fatigue-statistics - “Around 20% of fatal road accidents involve driver fatigue. According to VicRoads Road Accident Facts Victoria, 1998 Edition, about 30% of severe single vehicle crashes in rural areas involve the driver being fatigued”