Driver Fatigue

This article provides the facts on why driver fatigue causes accidents, tips for how you can recognise the signs of driver fatigue, and advice for how to use power-naps to help reduce driver fatigue.
Created: September 2012
Revised: February 2012
Latest Feedback: May 2013

Driver Fatigue

Driver fatigue is a silent killer and whilst the temptation for many is to put in the long haul to cover large distances in the shortest amount of time, it is a much safer bet to drive to arrive alive. Some drivers put unrealistic expectations on the daily distances they plan to travel just so to reach pre-planned accommodation, or caravan parks, however this can lead to driving tired and putting yourself and others on the road at great risk.

Some practical tips to avoid driver fatigue are:
  • plan your trip so you can take regular breaks, especially if taking children or pets
  • Avoid driving at times you would normally be asleep
  • Avoid starting a trip after a long day's work
  • Share the task of driving with another person if possible
  • Be aware of the effects of any medication taken
  • If you feel tired, the only way to keep safe, is to stop and sleep.
Research by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has identified that there are two periods of the day when the effects of fatique are most evident - between midnight and 6am, and between 2pm - 4pm.

Why does fatigue cause accidents?


Numerous Australian studies on effects of fatigue on driver performance have revealled three (3) main outcomes of fatigue in drivers:
  • Slower reaction times
  • Reduced attention to notice potential hazards
  • Reduced information processsing including accuracy of short-term memory

Recognising the Signs of Fatigue


Constant yawning, blurred vision, slowed reactions, heavy or sore eyes, poor concentration, impatience, not remembering the last few kilometres of the trip and so on.

Does power-napping help reduce fatigue?


Whilst there are a signficant number of factors that contribute to the reasons for driver fatigue (including road design issues), the number one solution to avoiding the onset of fatigue is simply to get enough sleep. Medical research suggests that 8 hours a night is the right amount for most people. However, that same well rested person can still become subjected to driver fatigue so the question is does stopping for a power-nap assist in lowering the effects of fatigue sufficiently to avert danger?

The answer is simply yes. However, how quickly each individual will respond to the power-nap is debatable and this can depend on the length of the power-nap taken. Researches at Flinders University have recently shown that a 10 minute power-nap can bring about an immediate and significant increase in alertness and mental performance - however they found this improvement wans about 1 hour after the nap. In another study, a longer nap (30 minutes) did not produce improvements until 30 minutes after waking - the improvement occurred but was just delayed. For travellers this could mean if you have an hour for a break, sleep for the first 30 minutes, then prepare and consume a snack and/or use toilet facilities for the next 30 minutes before commencing driving again.

Overall, the current theory on power-napping is that all it takes to reduce driver fatigue is just 10 minutes so the message is clear - take note of your fatigue responses and use any type of rest area, or P-bay as the difference between life and death could be just 10 minutes.

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