On a long drive have you ever realised that you have no recollection of the last bit of road, or worse, woken up with a start? That’s driver fatigue. It’s frightening when you realise what could have happened. Fatigued drivers tend to crash head on at full speed and statistically, it’s the cause of eleven percent of fatal accidents and eight percent of serious injury accidents. However, driver fatigue is very difficult to identify or measure and current research indicates it could be involved in close to one third of all crashes, making it one of the biggest killers on our roads.
Driving while fatigued has a similar effect to driving after drinking alcohol. It follows, then, that any amount of alcohol, combined with fatigue, will be particularly dangerous. You are fatigued when you are day-dreaming or lack concentration, rubbing dry or sore eyes, restless, drive at inconsistent speeds and tailgating, and can’t remember the last section of road.
Drowsiness follows when you start feeling weary, yawn a lot and have tired, heavy eyes, white lines appear mesmerising, you don’t react in time to other traffic or hazards, you drift across the road and you nod off briefly. There are many causes and combinations of these that will lead to extreme driver fatigue and drowsiness.
Lack of sleep. Several nights of reduced sleep can cause ‘sleep debt’. Circadian rhythms, our body clocks, cause us to feel sleepy in the afternoon and between three and five am, the total time you spend on the road, health issues, colds, feeling run down, shift work, or jet lag, a lack of fresh air, some common medications, (make sure you check and follow the directions).
Plan ahead to avoid fatigue. Get a good night’s sleep, don’t drive at times you would normally be sleeping, set realistic schedules and plan rest breaks in your journey. Don’t have a heavy meal before driving, and, on the road, share the driving if possible. Snack on light, fresh foods, avoiding sugary and fatty foods. Turn off the air recycling and keep fresh cool air circulating. Upbeat music or chatting can keep your mind alert. Drink plenty of water. Take your rest breaks before you get tired, that is, every two hours. Close your eyes for a few moments then get out of the car and move about in the fresh air.
If you do feel tired you must stop and rest immediately. Take a short power nap. Have a light meal and a drink of water. Then, plan to take a longer break as soon as possible. If you keep on driving your reactions will slow, you will lose your peripheral vision, your judgement becomes impaired, and ultimately your body will demand sleep, and you will experience a micro-sleep, and you will just nod off. Micro-sleeps last one to three seconds. At 100 kilometres an hour you will travel 30 to 90 metres without seeing anything. Prevention is the only successful strategy. The way to stay safe is to stay rested.