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Driving Drowsy

Fatigue or sleepiness and driving is a dangerous combination and a silent killer on Western Australian roads. It is believed it could be responsible for up to 30% of all road deaths. Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving but don’t realize that driving drowsy can be just as fatal. Like alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment and increases your risk of crashing.

Driver sleepiness is particularly dangerous because it can affect anyone, no matter how experienced a driver they might be. Although some are able to recognise that there may be a problem, many people drive while they are drowsy, simply because they are unable to distinguish whether it is affecting their driving and whether they are too drowsy to drive.

Early warning signs

  • Sleepiness
  • Can’t stop yawning
  • Wandering thoughts, difficulty concentration on driving
  • Drifting between lanes, off the road or miss signs
  • Changes in speed, especially slowing down without reason
  • Very heavy eyelids
  • Poor concentration
  • Boredom
  • Restlessness
  • Microsleeps

If you are driving, you should get off the road if you:

  • Are blinking slowly or blinking more than normal
  • Are having trouble keeping head up
  • Are yawning
  • Notice your eyes closing or going out of focus
  • Forget driving the last few kilometres

After driving for long periods, you should:

  • Swap drivers when possible
  • Stop for a break or coffee
  • Stop to have a short sleep

Risk factors that may contribute to fatigue-related crashes

  • Insufficient sleep before driving
  • Holding multiple jobs
  • Working night shift
  • Long periods awake
  • Poor quality sleep
  • Inadequate rest breaks
  • Stress
  • Environmental stresses
  • Illness or pain
  • Use of medication that cause drowsiness

How bad can it really be?

Driving after 17 hours without sleep can affect your driving performance as much as a blood alcohol level of 0.05 percent. Getting up at 7am in the morning, staying awake during the day, going out in the evening and then driving home at midnight will get you to this level.

Twenty four hours without sleep is as dangerous as driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent.

Who is most at risk?

Statistics show that more than half of the fatigue related driving accidents involve people 25 years or younger. Shift workers are also high risk as well as long distance truck drivers. If you have any type of sleep disorder, you are also at a much higher risk of an accident. Most accidents happen when you have had less than 6 hours sleep.

FACT:    You are most at risk between 1am and 6am when your alertness is low.

Reduce the risk

  • Plan your journey to include a 15-minute break for every two hours travel time.
  • Don’t start a long trip if you are already tired.
  • When possible, avoid long trips between midnight and 6am when you are more likely to feel sleepy anyway.
  • If you do start to feel sleepy, find a safe place to stop. Drink coffee or a high-caffeine drink and rest for 10 to 15 minutes to allow time for the caffeine to kick in.
  • Remember, the only cure for sleepiness is proper sleep. Caffeine drinks and naps are a short-term solution and will allow you to keep driving for a short time only.

FACT:    Australian national data indicates a significant increase in fatigue-related crashes during holiday periods such as Christmas and Easter.

Studies have shown that drivers don’t fall asleep without warning. Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel have often tried to fight off drowsiness by opening a window, or by turning up the radio. This doesn’t work for long.

Remember, the best cure for drowsiness is sleep. If the warning signs are there, you should stop and take a break.