Driver fatigue is one of the leading causes of fatalities on Australian roads, along with speeding and alcohol consumption. Research by Transport NSW also suggests that fatigue is just as dangerous as drunk driving, if not more so. In fact, staying awake for 17 hours has similar effects on cognitive ability as a 0.05/100ml blood alcohol content.
After 21 hours, this figure skyrockets to 0.15, which is classified as “High Range” and well over the legal limit. Moreover, driving tired after being awake for 24 hours increases the risk of a car accident seven-fold.
According to a 1998 study, New South Wales had the highest percentage of driver fatigue fatalities (22%). Meanwhile, 16% of national deaths in this category occurred on the Queensland road, where the risk of dying in fatigue-related crashes is 13.5 times higher in rural regions than urban areas. Between the years 2013 and 2017, more people died in Australia from these kinds of car accidents than alcohol-related crashes.
Despite these sobering statistics, driver fatigue isn’t regulated by law, so it’s up to road users to be responsible. Let’s look at how tiredness affects us and what we can do to prevent tired-driving.
Sleepiness and Driving
Drowsy driving significantly increases your risk of being in a serious or fatal crash. This is because a lack of sleep affects you in the following ways:
- Impairs your performance and judgement
- Decreases your reaction time
- Results in a loss of attention
- Increases the likelihood that you will fall asleep at the wheel
Driver fatigue affects everyone. However, the statistics show that those at a higher risk of being in a sleepiness-related crash include:
- Young adults and new parents
- Shift workers and people with long working hours
- Commercial drivers operating heavy vehicles
Fatigue is often the result of insufficient or poor quality sleep. Other factors include disruptions to your normal sleep-wake cycle, pain and illness, extreme mental or physical strain, and stress. Staying up over extended periods, environmental factors like noise, heat, and light, and inadequate rest breaks while driving long distances also contribute to tiredness.
The warning signs of fatigue while driving include:
- Speed changes
- Sore or heavy eyes
- Difficulty concentrating
- Drifting into another lane
- Yawning and drowsiness
- Head nodding and restlessness
- Struggling to keep your eyes open
- Microsleeps lasting a few seconds
Staying Safe on the Road
If you experience any of the above signs, it’s best to avoid driving altogether. The only way to effectively combat fatigue is by getting proper rest. That said, here are a few tips to keep in mind for your road safety and that of others:
- Take frequent breaks during a long trip. A 15 minute stop every two hours is ideal. Plan ahead and identify Driver Reviver sites or other rest areas on your route.
- If you’re travelling with others, share the driving. A chain of responsibility is the best way to prevent fatigue and ensure alertness at all times.
- Make sure you’re well-rested before embarking on a long journey. When you start feeling sleepy, stop driving immediately.
- If you take any medication, consult your doctor and make sure that it won’t impair your concentration or leave you drowsy before driving.
Driver fatigue is dangerous. Keep the warning signs in mind and remember these tips next time you hit the road.
If you want to learn more about defensive driving including more tips on on avoiding driver technique, get professional driving lessons from LTrent. We also offer the Safer Drivers Course in NSW, for learners to build safe driving techniques and stay safe on the road from the get go.