In this three-part series focusing on the main causes of road fatalities, we have explored the roles speeding and alcohol play. Now we look at our third leading cause of road fatalities: fatigue.
In today’s world there is always something demanding of our time. Long work hours, often with deadlines, children, family, a social life. It seems like there is little time to rest.
Statistics from the NSW Centre For Road Safety tell us that roughly 1 in 5 fatalities is caused by driver fatigue. Clearly, driving while tired is not a good idea – it is responsible for approximately 75-80 deaths a year, in NSW.
Driver fatigue is the condition where a person is showing signs of needing to sleep, but they are fighting to keep their eyes open instead, creating an almost hypnotic effect that leads to a diminished driving ability. Although fatigue-related crashes are more common in rural areas, accounting for roughly 17% of rural driving fatalities, and 7% in the metropolitan areas, fatigue can happen on short or long trips and because of our busy lifestyles, drivers are often tired before they get behind the wheel.
Our bodies are programmed by our circadian rhythms to get an uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep at night and then to be awake during the day. Therefore, during the night most types of human performances are impaired, including our ability to drive. This is why you are 4 times as likely to have a fatal crash if you are driving between 10pm and dawn.
A ‘micro sleep’ is the eventual outcome of driving while fatigued. During a four second microsleep, a car travelling at 100km/h will travel 111 metres while completely out of the driver’s control. Consider, too, that at any time deadly hazards like trees, embankments and other vehicles are just metres away. Drivers who are asleep cannot brake and when travelling at 100km/h you only have a 50% chance of surviving a crash.
The best way to avoid fatigue is to plan ahead by getting a good night’s sleep, taking regular breaks and knowing and responding to your own warning signs of being tired. If experiencing any early warning signs, pull over in a safe place and rest. In most cases, a quick 15-minute power nap is enough to revive us. But there are other ways that you can help reduce the likelihood of driver fatigue:
Avoid long drives late in the day;
Eat proper and well-balanced meals (avoid alcohol) before and during the trip;
Don’t drive more than 8 hours a day and share the driving if possible.
To find out how you or someone you know can become a safer driver visit our website www.roadsense.org.au and enquire about one of the great programs we have available.