Fatigue - The Hidden Killer

Driver fatigue, or tiredness, contributes to many hundreds of deaths and injuries on our roads every year. It has a role in up to 30 per cent of fatal crashes and up to 15 per cent of serious injuries needing to go to hospital.

Driver fatigue can be just as deadly as drink driving or excessive speeding. The problem with fatigue is that it slowly develops and drivers often don’t realise they’re too tired to drive safely. But drivers can teach themselves to recognise the warning signs and take a break before it is too late.
On a campervan holiday, it is vital to avoid driver fatigue via appropriate holiday planning. We recommend you:

  • Do not plan to drive long distances immediately after arriving from a long haul flight and
  • Stay in the same city for your first day/night of travel.

The Warning Signs
There are a number of easy to recognise warning signs when you’re becoming fatigued. It’s a good idea to get to know what these are.

  • You know you are becoming fatigued if you have a combination of any of the following:
  • You keep yawning
  • You have difficulty keeping your head up or eyes open
  • Your eyes feel sore or heavy
  • Your vision starts to blur or dim
  • You start ‘seeing things’
  • You find you’re daydreaming, thinking of everything else but not your driving
  • You become impatient and make rash decisions
  • You feel hungry or thirsty
  • Your hands feel sweaty
  • Your reactions seem slow
  • You feel stiff or cramped
  • Your driving speed creeps up or down
  • You start making poor gear changes
  • You wander over the centre-line, or into another lane or on to the road edge
  • You hear a droning or humming in your ears
  • You don’t notice a vehicle until it suddenly overtakes you
  • You don’t remember driving the last few kilometres

When you notice some of the warning signs, it doesn’t help your safety to brush them off as nothing. It is safer to take a break, sooner rather than later.

Avoiding fatigue on long trips
There are a number of simple commonsense ways of avoiding driver fatigue. It’s a good idea to get to know them. Using them will help you arrive safely.

  • Plan your trip with a good night’s sleep (that is, 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep) beforehand.
  • Plan not to travel for more than 8-10 hours in any one day. The longer you drive the more you must fight fatigue.
  • Plan to take regular breaks (at least every 2 hours for 15 minutes or more), stopping in towns along the way or at roadside rest stops.
  • Plan to start your trip early in the day and try not to drive into the night. The chances of crashing are much higher at night. Plan to stay somewhere overnight so you can arrive alive – even if it is the next day.
  • When you stop, get out of the car and walk around for a while – exercise, breathing deeply.
  • Share the driving, if you can. Passengers can tell if you are tired or showing signs of tiredness.
  • Eat proper well-balanced meals on journeys – not too much and not too little – and at your usual meal times. This will also ensure you take proper breaks. (It’s a good idea to steer clear of fatty foods which can make you feel sluggish).
  • Don’t drink any alcohol at all before driving or during rest breaks. Alcohol can make you feel tired more quickly, as well as putting you at risk of being over the legal limit to drive.
  • Check what prescription medicines you are taking – some can affect your alertness or cause drowsiness. If this is the case, check with your pharmacist and see if you can stop taking them for a day.

Myths and Facts
There are many myths about drive fatigue:

Myth: It’ll be safer if I make the trip overnight because I’ll avoid the day-time traffic.
Fact: Your body has a normal 24-hour rhythm pattern built into it. If you are driving when you would normally be sleeping you will be fighting yourself to stay awake. The chances of falling asleep at the wheel after your normal bedtime, especially in the early hours of the morning, are very high.

Myth: Loud music will keep me awake.
Fact: This might help for a while but it won’t help for long. Loud music might also distract you from the driving task or even send you to sleep!

Myth: A flask of coffee or a caffeine drink will keep me awake.
Fact: Caffeine is only a short term solution and will have less and less affect the more often you use it. It might make you feel more alert but it won’t keep you going for long. The long term solution is to get some sleep.

Myth: Plenty of fresh air through the window will keep me awake.
Fact: This might give you a boost and help for a while, as might turning the air-conditioning to cold. But if you’re tired, sleep is the only solution.