One of the most common causes of crashes on country roads is fatigue. Being fatigued makes us less alert to what is happening on the road, and less able to react quickly and safely if a dangerous situation arises.

Are you at risk?

The two main causes of fatigue are lack of quality sleep and driving at times when you would normally be asleep. By not getting enough sleep you will build up a sleep debt.

What is sleep debt?

If you don't get enough sleep you go into debt ? you 'owe' yourself more sleep ? and the only way to repay this debt is by sleeping.

Until you catch up on your sleep you have a greater risk of having a fatigue?related crash.

Some risk factors

You also put yourself at risk of a fatigue related crash if you:

  • drive in the early morning (1am?6am), as for most of us this is the time that we would normally be sleeping. Also driving in the 'afternoon lull' (1pm?5pm), when our biological time clock makes most of us feel sleepy
  • start a trip after a long day's work
  • have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea. Symptoms of sleep apnoea include heavy snoring broken by sudden periods of silence, restless sleep and constantly being tired during the day.
Signs of driver fatigue

The signs of fatigue include:

  • your head keeps nodding
  • difficulty in keeping your eyes open
  • unable to remember last few kilometres
  • constant yawning
  • drifting in the lane or driving off the road edge
  • delayed reactions
  • loss of concentration / daydreaming
  • fluctuations in driving speed.
What to do to avoid driver fatigue

To protect from having a fatigue-related crash:

  • before a long trip you should only have a light meal
  • share the driving if you can, with another person
  • make sure you regularly get enough sleep
  • don't undertake a long trip after a long day at work
  • take a break at least every two hours and walk around
  • be aware that you are at a greater risk of having an accident when driving between 1am-6am and 1pm-5pm as you are out of sync with you biological clock
  • do NOT drink any alcohol before or during a long trip as it could make you sleepy
  • If you feel tired pull off into a parking bay and sleep. A 10 minute Powernap can significantly lower the risk of a fatigue related crash
  • eat well balanced meals at your normal meal times.
The Myths about reducing fatigue

There are some commonly held beliefs about fatigue that are false.

A short stop during a long trip will keep me safe.

Having regular breaks might help delay the onset of fatigue, but once you become fatigued you must have some sleep.

Drinking coffee is the best way to beat fatigue.

Coffee only provides short term benefits; once the effect wears off, sleep loss will kick in which is a major cause of accidents.

Listening to the radio or music will keep me focussed and alert.

This will only provide some short term benefit.

Having plenty of fresh air or air conditioning will keep me alert.

This is desirable, but only provides some short term benefit.

I'm young and need less sleep.

In reality, drivers under 25 years of age are over represented in fatigue related crashes.

Drowsy driver : Drink driver. What is the difference?

Research shows that if you haven't slept for 17 hours it has the same effect on driving ability as a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.05.

Going without sleep for 24 hours has the same effect as a driver with a BAC of 0.1.

Driving when fatigued may not be illegal, but it can be lethal.

The only cure for fatigue is sleep.