Fatigue Kills         She was asleep

Fatigue results in thousands of crashes every year.

What do we mean by ‘fatigue’?

You are fatigued when you become tired and can’t concentrate on your driving. You may even fall asleep at the wheel.

Fatigue is a factor in about 25% of crashes and in almost one-third of rural single vehicle crashes.

Most fatigue related crashes occur during normal sleeping hours.

Fatigue related crashes seem to relate more to what drivers do before they set out, than to the driving task itself. Lack of sleep is a critical factor. Fatigue can be a killer even on short trips.

How do we know?

Unlike alcohol related crashes, there are no simple tests to determine if fatigue was a cause in a crash. Investigators suspect fatigue as a cause when:

  • The crash occurs late at night, early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
  • A single car has run off the roadway.
  • Nothing Indicates the driver tried to avoid the crash (e.g., no skid marks).

Everybody needs sleep and we all have our own patterns of sleepiness and wakefulness.

Fatigue (sometimes referred to as drowsiness or sleepiness) causes crashes because it slows down the driver’s reaction times and affects their scanning abilities and information processing skills.

Fatigue can strike any driver but you are at greater risk as a young person if you:

  • Combine heavy study or work with leisure and late night socialising.
  • Change your sleep patterns and reduce night time sleep.
  • Drink alcohol and/or use other drugs.

Managing fatigue is like many other health issues: prevention is better than a cure!

There are many warning signs for fatigue, a combination of any of the following signals that the driver is becoming fatigued and needs to take a break:

  • Yawning.
  • Eyes feeling sore or heavy.
  • Vision starting to blur.
  • Start seeing things.
  • Daydreaming and not concentrating.
  • Becoming impatient.
  • Feeling hungry or thirsty.
  • Reactions seem slow.
  • Feeling stiff or cramped.
  • Driving speed creeps up or down.
  • Starting to make poor gear changes.
  • Wandering over the centre line or onto the road edge.

Here are some ideas to fatigue minimise when you are driving:

  • Plan to get sufficient and regular sleep.
  • Most people need around 7-8 hours in every 24 hour period. Making do with less sleep will affect your driving.
  • If you are sleepy or tired don’t drink even small amounts of alcohol. Alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system and can make you feel even more tired and less alert.
  • Try not to drive during your normal sleeping hours. Your body works in a rhythm or pattern and when you upset this rhythm it can badly affect you.
  • If possible take a taxi or a lift with another person rather than driving during your normal sleep times. (You can always pick your car up in the morning if you have to).
  • Think about what activity you were doing before the drive. If it was physically or mentally demanding then fatigue may ‘kick in’ within a few minutes of beginning the trip.
  • Know the signs that indicate you are tired.
  • If you are fatigued, you must stop driving. Let a passenger drive or take a short ‘power nap’ before continuing with the trip.

There is really only one way to prevent and manage fatigue: have a sleep.

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