We’ve all questioned whether or not we should drive home after a big night, but what about a big day? About 20 - 30% of all car crashes in Australia are caused by fatigue – and if a driver falls asleep for just four seconds behind the wheel, they’ll travel over 110m blind. Turns out those extra five minutes in the morning might actually save your life. Take that, Mum.
Research shows that if you’ve had less than 4-5 hours sleep in the last 24 hours, your risk of crashing is 10 times higher.
Fatigue is a major cause of crashes in Victoria - around 30 people die each year and up to 200 people suffer serious injuries due to these types of crashes (5 year average).
People generally don't become drowsy from driving – usually they’re already tired when they get behind the wheel. Long hours at work, a big night out, shift work, studying late, sleep apnoea or physically demanding roles are all common causes of fatigue.
How will fatigue affect my driving?
Drowsiness impairs alertness and reaction times. It causes lapses in attention and poor decision-making, all of which can lead to increased risk of crashing.
Driving drowsy may cause you to:
- Have trouble remembering the last few kilometres driven, daydream or miss exits or traffic signs.
- Drift from your lane, tailgate, hit a shoulder rumble strip or have difficulty maintaining a consistent, correct speed.
- Linger a little too long at traffic lights – or miss the lights changing altogether.
- Have a slower reaction time when braking or stopping at intersections.
How do I know if I’m too tired to drive?
It’s up to you to determine when it’s time to pull over for a break, or if you’re too drowsy to drive. It’s an important call to make - and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. A good rule of thumb is to rest or swap drivers every two hours.
Signs to watch out for include:
- Sore or heavy eyes
- Slower reaction times
- Finding you're daydreaming and not concentrating on your driving
- Driving speed creeping up or down
- Impaired driving performance such as poor gear changes
- Stiffness and cramps
- Loss of motivation
- Nodding off (even for one second)
How to avoid tired driving
Although you might be tempted to get a quick coffee and power through a long drive, there is no substitute for sleep when it comes to reducing drowsiness. A 15-minute nap can definitely help, but so can getting in a good snooze the night before. Here are our top tips.
- Ensuring you’re getting enough sleep (7-8 hours) before driving.
- Avoid driving at times when you would normally be sleeping, if you’re feeling sleepy or haven’t had much sleep in the lead up to your drive.
- Take a break every 2 hours on long drives or if possible, swap drivers regularly.
- Listen to your body and take symptoms of fatigue seriously. If you feel too tired to drive, you probably are.
The bottom line
The only way to fight sleep is by sleeping.
Although we might like to convince ourselves that listening to loud music, eating sugary treats, turning on the air-con and rolling down the windows are sure bets to staying awake behind the wheel, it really couldn’t be further from the truth.
In reality, the only way to fight sleep is by sleeping. Nanna naps have never been cooler.