Driver fatigue – fact and fiction

There are a number of misconceptions about the affect of fatigue on driving and what can be done to make driving safer.


Road safety expert Dr Vanessa Beanland who researches road safety and driver behaviour at The Australian National University has warned drivers to beware of the dangers of fatigue during the holidays.


People are often more tired than usual when they get in the car due to planning, packing, shopping or working and going further than they usually would.


She said people were often not aware of the extent of impairment that results from being sleepy.


Dr Vanessa Beanland said, "Some research suggests that being awake for 17 hours produces equivalent impairment to a blood alcohol content of .05.


"If you are driving down the coast after a long day at work that is equivalent to driving with an illegal level of intoxication."


The annual economic cost of road crashes in Australia is estimated at $27 billion per year. Driver sleepiness or fatigue is implicated in approximately 15-30 per cent of all crashes.


Dr Beanland cautions drivers to be wary of myths about how to avoid countermeasures that can help if you are sleepy.

"Strategies like turning on the radio, turning on the air-conditioning do not work," she said.


"The best approach is to stop and sleep. If this is not possible, drink a caffeinated drink and follow it with a 15 minute nap, not any longer because it becomes counterproductive."


She said studies have found more than half of fatigue accidents happen on roads residential roads or roads with speed limits between 50km/h and 80km/h.


Sleep related accidents are also more likely in the early afternoon, or between midnight and 6am.


Dr Beanland said the impact of driver fatigue has a greater impact on the wider community not just those involved in the crash.


"Serious injury crashes where a person is hospitalised pose a massive burden on society, in terms of direct costs including medical care and indirect being lost or reduced work productivity," she concluded.


Older persons need to be particularly aware of their state of fatigue and the actions that they should take for its management.


The affects of a vehicle collision, even those which appear to be relatively minor, can be particularly serious for an older person.


Because of the frailty of aged persons, an accident from which a young person may walk away could lead to serious injury or death for older persons. This is evidenced by the death rate of older persons involved in vehicle accidents.


24 December 2015.