Driver fatigue is a serious problem which results in many thousands of road accidents all over the world each year.
It’s not possible to calculate the exact number of fatigue-related accidents, but research shows that driver fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20 per cent of crashes, and up to 25 per cent of fatal and serious ones.
These types of crashes are also about 50 per cent more likely to result in death or serious injury because they’re frequently relatively high-speed impacts related to the driver falling asleep and therefore not having applied braking and/or steering to avoid or mitigate the situation.
Sleepiness reduces reaction time a critical element of safe driving because of significantly reduced levels of concentration and general alertness. This means that our ability to perform an attention-based activity such as driving, which requires an efficient decision-making process, is seriously impaired.
What’s worrying is that we generally tend to know when we’re feeling sleepy behind the wheel and should, therefore, make a conscious decision about whether to continue driving or to stop for a rest. Many drivers avoid this common-sense action in an effort to continue with the journey.
However, things are changing. In the UK and certain other countries, for example, self-imposed sleep deprivation has been held by the courts to be reckless driving and carries heavy penalties.
Crashes caused by tired drivers are most likely to happen:
•During long, monotonous journeys on roads such as highways or other long relatively hazard-free main roads
•Between 2am and 6am
•Between 2pm and 4pm (especially after eating) After having less sleep than normal
•If alcohol and/or prescription medicines have been taken (both can cause drowsiness)
•After long working hours or on journeys home, especially after night shifts
To minimise this risk we should consider these points:
•Don’t begin a trip if tired and get a good night's sleep before embarking on a long journey
•Avoid undertaking long journeys between midnight and 6am, when natural alertness is at its minimum
•Plan journeys to enable sufficient rest (a minimum break of at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving is recommended)
If feeling sleepy, stop in a safe place. Don’t, for example, park on the hard shoulder of a highway. Many over-the-counter medicines, including remedies for coughs, colds, flu and hay fever cause unwanted drowsiness which will impair driving. If the label says ‘may cause drowsiness’, it’s safer to assume that it will.
Classic signs of fatigue are:
•Drifting between lanes
•Trouble keeping our head upright
•Difficulty remembering driving the last few kilometres
•Variations in driving speed
It’s worth noting that depriving ourselves of sleep before driving can, at its worst, have the same practical effect of driving whilst intoxicated by alcohol.
Mixing alcohol with driving will serve to worsen the effects of fatigue and is an extremely dangerous and illegal thing to do.
•Take at least seven to eight hours of uninterrupted quality sleep before your trip
•Take regular 15-minute breaks at least every two hours during the drive. During the break get out of the car, get some fresh air and exercise
•If possible, share the driving but make sure your co-driver is fit to drive
•Eat well-balanced meals at your usual meal times
•Avoid illicit drugs of all kinds
•Avoid medicines that can cause drowsiness
•Manage the times you drive: The chances of crashing are much higher late at night and early morning.
Follow these simple rules in order to stay awake and stay alive. Safe driving!