Avoiding driver fatigue

We spend around one third of our lifetime sleeping, and that’s because we need to. When we’re not getting enough sleep we become a risk on the road to ourselves and others.

Tiredness including drowsy driving is a contributing factor in between 16-20% of all road crashes in Victoria. It might surprise you to know that studies show someone who has been awake for 17 hours has the same level of impairment as someone with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05.

Many people think fatigue is only a problem for long-distance drives, 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.

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.

It's important to remember that you can't fight sleep.

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

For more information on fatigue and road safety see the VicRoads website.

Look out for the signs of fatigue

The signs of tiredness include:

  • yawning
  • sore or heavy eyes
  • slower reaction times
  • finding you're daydreaming and not concentrating on your driving
  • driving speed creeps up or down
  • impatience
  • impaired driving performance such as poor gear changes
  • stiffness and cramps
  • loss of motivation
  • Microsleeps which can be as little as a few seconds, your head may nod and then jerk to wake you up.

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 affect 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.

While driving tired you might find you:

  • Have trouble remembering the last few kilometres driven, day dream or miss exits or traffic signs
  • Drift from your lane, tailgate, hit a shoulder rumble strip or have difficulty maintaining a consistent, correct speed
  • Find yourself waiting at traffic lights or not seeing lights change.