Drowsy driving is suspected to be one of the primary causes of road accidents. Sleepiness and driving is a dangerous combination. Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving but don’t realize that drowsy driving can be just as fatal.
Definitions of drowsy driving or driver fatigue rely on how the concept of “fatigue” is defined. Fatigue is a general term commonly used to describe the experience of being “sleepy,” “tired,” “drowsy,” or “exhausted.” While all of these terms have different meanings in research and clinical settings, they tend to be used interchangeably in the traffic safety and transportation fields.
Most fatigue-related accidents occur during normal sleeping hours, and the more severe the crash, the more likely it is that the driver or drivers were fatigued. Fatigue is a likely factor in almost one third of single-vehicle crashes.
Many people think fatigue is only a problem for long-distance drivers, however it is just as relevant for short-distance drives. People generally don’t become fatigued from driving. Usually they are already tired when they get behind the wheel from long hours, shift work, lack of sleep, sleep apnoea or physically demanding roles.
Your body can’t fight the need to sleep. Chemicals build up in your brain until they reach a tipping point and you will fall asleep
Causes of drowsy driving
- A lack of quality sleep
- Driving when you would normally be sleeping (overnight)
- Sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea, a sleeping condition that causes tiredness throughout the day
- Symptoms of fatigue
- Sore or heavy eyes
- Slower reaction times
- Daydreaming or not concentrating on your driving
- Impaired driving performance such as poor gear changes
- Stiffness and cramps
- How fatigue affects your driving
Fatigue has a huge impact on your driving and can affect your ability to drive safely, similar to the effect of drink driving. Research shows that being awake for 17 hours has the same effect on your driving ability as a BAC (blood alcohol concentration) of 0.05. Going without sleep for 24 hours has the same affect as a BAC of 0.1, double the legal limit.
How to beat driver fatigue
The only way to address fatigue is by sleeping. Make a choice not to drive when tired or follow these guidelines to prevent fatigue:
- Get a good night’s sleep before heading off on a long trip
- Don’t travel for more than eight to ten hours a day
- Take regular breaks – at least every two hours
- Share the driving wherever possible
- Don’t drink alcohol before your trip. Even a small amount can significantly contribute to driver fatigue
- Don’t travel at times when you’d usually be sleeping
- Take a 15 minute powernap if you feel yourself becoming drowsy
How to stay awake
- Studies show that taking a 20 minute walk can boost your energy levels and decrease fatigue.
- Involve your ears.
- Give your eyes a break.
- Fuel up with healthy snacks
- When all else fails, use cold water.