Stay safe on our roads: Tips for managing driver fatigue

By Chris Dougherty, General Manager, Westlawn Insurance
29 August 2016

Driver fatigue has been identified as a key contributing factor in a number of tragic road accidents on regional roads over recent months, prompting NSW police to issue warnings about the dangers of driving while tired. 

Driver fatigue is a particular risk for business owners across this region as drivers travelling long distances on country roads are particularly vulnerable. Whether you are regularly driving between towns for business yourself, or you have employees out on the roads, the risks should never be underestimated.

Managing driver fatigue should be a priority for your business.

Police issue warning after spike in road fatalities

On 6 August, The Daily Telegraph reported that the number of fatalities on NSW roads was up 35 from the same period last year and that fatigue-related crashes were up 65%. These alarming statistics prompted police to conduct a blitz on driver fatigue in the first 2 weeks of this month.

Highway Patrol Head Assistant Commissioner, John Hartley, instructed highway patrol officers to speak with drivers about fatigue when conducting random breath tests.

“People don’t think they’re tired; they think they can reach the next town, think they can drive further and further.

“If you don’t realise the factors of tiredness you may crash and kill yourself or someone else,” Hartley said.

On 22 August, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that it was now older, experienced drivers more likely to die on NSW roads, citing work pressures as a contributing factor:

“Economic pressures could be behind a dramatic increase in the deaths of experienced male drivers on NSW roads in what the state’s leading road safety expert has called a ‘new dimension’ to the problem.

“Tradesmen working long hours and travelling long distances to squeeze more jobs into their working day are some of the factors being attributed to the spike in deaths for men aged between 30 and 50.”

According to Bernard Carlon, executive director of the NSW Centre for Road Safety, the figures dispel the common perception that young men, often P-Platers, represent the largest contingent in road fatalities.

Carlon pointed to a rise in fatalities involving drivers of light trucks from 5 to 23 deaths indicating blue-collar workers are now dying on our roads in greater numbers.

The dangers of driver fatigue

Driver fatigue significantly increases the risk of a crash. Research indicates that crashes resulting from driver fatigue also tend to be more severe being 3 times more likely to involve a fatality than crashes which are non-fatigue related.[1]

Lack of sleep, time of day and time on task are key contributing factors for loss in concentration and driving ability. Shift workers and overtime workers are particularly vulnerable and are more likely to be involved in a fatigue-related crash.

A study by the Centre for Sleep Research in South Australia revealed that if you’ve been awake for 17 hours before getting behind the wheel, the risk of crashing is as great as being at the 0.05 legal drinking limit. Driving after 24 hours without sleep gives you the same risk as someone with a 0.1 blood alcohol level.

Warning signs telling you it’s time to pull over

If you experience any of these fatigue warning signs while out on the road, it’s time to pull over and take a break:

  • Trouble focusing or keeping attention
  • Daydreaming and wandering thoughts
  • Boredom and fidgeting
  • Head nodding, inability to keep your eyes open
  • Constant yawning or rubbing your eyes
  • Forgetting last few minutes of your journey
  • “Zoning out” or becoming oblivious to your surroundings
  • Poor judgement or slower reaction times
  • Drifting in the lane or missing traffic signs.

How to avoid driver fatigue

Prevention is always the best cure. So follow these tips to avoid driver fatigue on your next journey:

  • Before getting behind the wheel, be well rested with good quantity and quality of sleep.
  • Avoid travelling at times you’d normally be asleep.
  • Eat small meals before driving as large meals can make you drowsy. Sandwiches and fruit are ideal snacks for driving. Avoid heavy, fatty foods as they make you drowsy. While chocolate increases your blood sugar level giving you an instant hit, once it disperses it can make you tired.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid using the heater as this can cause drowsiness. If it’s cold, direct warmth to your legs and feet and open your window slightly to let fresh air on your face.
  • Keep fresh air circulating through the car.
  • Keep your mind active by listening to the radio.
  • Avoid sedative drugs.
  • If you feel any of the fatigue warning signs listed above, stop in a safe area, stretch your legs and if possible have a 15 to 30 minute nap.
    Share the driving every 2 hours if travelling with a passenger licensed and authorised to drive.

If you or any of your employees drive long distances, or you have shift workers or workers regularly working overtime, managing driver fatigue is vital and should be considered part of your business risk management plan. Share the above tips with your employees and regularly discuss the dangers with those who may be at risk.

For information on risk management planning, read my earlier article Managing risk vital for business survival and success.

Contact a Westlawn Insurance Broker

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Westlawn Insurance Brokers Pty Ltd ABN 65 075 847 291 AFSL No. 246520

[1] Williamson & Boufous, 2007. Data-matching study of the role of fatigue in work-related crashes. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 10(3), 242-253.