Driving drowsy? Understanding driver fatigue


By Craig Cockerton, Chief Operating Officer, Fleetcoach
Monday, 22 February, 2021

Driving drowsy? Understanding driver fatigue

Many have questions about driver fatigue. This could be because it’s widely understood that most adults aren’t quite getting enough sleep at night to feel rested, or because a mistake behind the wheel can have enormous consequences.

It’s an inescapable fact that fatigue-related crashes are twice as likely to be fatal. Statistics from the Transport Accident Commission state that driver fatigue is a factor in 20% of all fatal road crashes in Victoria, while Queensland’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety estimates 20–30% of all road deaths and serious injuries might involve tired drivers. Studies have shown that 17 hours awake — that’s from 7 am till midnight — has a similar effect on our driving as being over the legal alcohol limit, or roughly the equivalent of three standard drinks in under an hour for the average 90 kg male. Driving can be a lot more tiring than most people realise. You’re constantly aware of what’s going on around you, reacting to what you see and hear, all the while making sure you keep the vehicle moving in the right direction at the right speed.

Think about the last time you drove while you were tired. You might have felt that you were slower to react, your mind wandered, and you made silly mistakes. Those are just some of the fatigue-related factors that can kickstart the chain of events to an accident. It’s important that you’re on the lookout for both the early warning signs of when not to drive and the more immediate signs that mean you really should get off the road as soon as you can. Dry eyes, slow blinks, foggy head… and what was that? Did you just fall asleep for a few seconds? You aren’t really sure you remember the last few minutes of driving… because everything is feeling heavy, the road is so boring and all you can think about is some restful sleep.

The best thing you can do is prioritise quality sleep before you drive. If you’re going on a long trip, make sure you give yourself enough time to take frequent breaks at least every two hours, don’t travel for more than eight to ten hours a day and choose a time to drive when you know you’d normally be wide awake. Share the driving if you can, stay hydrated and limit alcohol for a day or two before a long trip. Have some good snacks in the car as this is better than stopping for a heavy meal, and if you do feel yourself becoming drowsy find a safe spot to take a 15-minute power nap. It’s also important to understand your own body. Something to consider is that energy levels and fatigue are a big indicator of your general wellbeing. In turn, your wellbeing is a surprisingly important factor in your driving safety, which is why it should be a focus of any quality training program.

If you’re regularly feeling tired at the wheel, it could be worth examining why. Just feeling ‘tired’ isn’t the same as feeling unfocused or flat, but we’re often tempted to treat them in the same way. Tiredness comes in many forms — lack of sleep, boredom, low energy caused by depression, intense fatigue from illness. So maybe a better solution is to really look at what kind of tired we are, and look to see if there are any lifestyle or mental health factors we could be addressing that will make us safer behind the wheel.

Now. How are you feeling today?

For more information, visit https://www.fleetcoach.com/fatigue.


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