Fatigue and Driving

May 21, 2019 | Fatigue, Impaired Driving

Increased Risk of Crash

Being fatigued significantly increases the risk of a crash. You are less likely to be aware of what’s happening on the road and impairs your ability to respond quickly and safely if danger arises. Driver fatigue is believed to contribute to more than 30% of road crashes. The following are symptoms of driver fatigue:

  • Trouble focusing, or narrowing of attention
  • Head nodding, or inability to keep the eyes open
  • Not remembering the last few minutes
  • Poor judgment, slower reaction time
  • “Zoning out”
  • Daydreaming and wandering thoughts
  • Constant yawning or rubbing your eyes
  • Drifting in the lane


If you experience any of these symptoms your driving performance may already be impaired.

The 2 main causes of driver fatigue include lack of quality/quantity sleep or driving at times of the day when you would normally be sleeping. The end result is to build up of sleep debt and the only way to catch up is to get enough sleep.

The following factors influence the likelihood that a driver will become fatigued:

  • How long you have been awake (particularly beyond about 17 hours)
  • Time of day: your body and brain have a biological clock (circadian rhythm) that influences how alert or drowsy we are at certain times of the day
  • The quantity and quality of your last period of sleep
  • Your level of physical or mental activity at the time (eg long boring stretches of the road make it difficult to maintain alertness and vigilance)
  • The presence of untreated sleep disorders (such as obstructive sleep apnea or narcolepsy)
  • Sedative drugs

Because fatigue impairs mental processing and decision making abilities, drivers can lapse into a “micro-sleep” without realizing. This may only last a few seconds, but if it coincides with the need to perform some critical driving task (e.g. turning the wheel or responding to a stop signal), the risk of crashing is greatly increased.

Avoiding Driver Fatigue

Here are some effective ways to avoid driver fatigue:

  1. Get a good night’s sleep before heading off on a long trip
  2. don’t travel for more than eight to ten hours a day
  3. Take regular breaks – at least every two hours
  4. Share the driving wherever possible
  5. Don’t drink alcohol before your trip. Even a small amount can significantly contribute to driver fatigue
  6. Plan your trip and don’t travel at times when you’d usually be sleeping
  7. Take a 15-minute powernap if you feel yourself becoming drowsy

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