COMBATTING FATIGUE ON THE ROAD
The silent killer on our roads
For commercial drivers who spend more than 50% of their working day behind the wheel, this can be a regular and hazardous occurrence. While no accurate statistics exist on the number of crashes occurring because of fatigue in South Africa, it can be readily accepted that fatigue falls under driver impairment, a subcategory of “human errors,” a category that contributes to more than 80% of all crashes. This behaviour can, however, be corrected through awareness, training, regulation and on-going monitoring and evaluation.
Drivers of all vehicle types need to understand the causes and dangers of fatigue and the impact it has on driving, both in built-up areas as well as over longer distances. A vehicle in a poor state of tune can further exacerbate the problem, since toxic fumes, unacceptable noise levels and sluggish performance can increase fatigue levels. Which brings us to the first, important step: ensuring that your vehicle is serviced and maintained at recommended service intervals.
Next step, plan your routes carefully. This is equally important for daily commuters, delivery drivers, and long distance holiday travellers. Knowing where one is going, avoiding getting lost, and wasting time and fuel contributes to increased stress levels which can mentally and physically tire one out.
Here, unintended consequences, such as road rage is also not uncommon as tired drivers make mistakes and unnecessarily get involved in skirmishes with other road users. Route planning involves selecting routes that offer the least challenges in terms of monotony, safety, quality of roads and driving through various environments where stray animals and pedestrians could pose serious hazards.
Finally, and probably the most important step – the driver needs to understand his or her role and responsibility when behind the wheel. In this regard, the driver needs to be fully rested by getting sufficient sleep and be alert when driving by not losing focus because of mental stimuli and physical distractions. It would also be helpful to ensure that regular breaks are factored in to make sure that drivers are refreshed and alert to continue the journey safely.
Drinking too much coffee or energy drinks has a limited effect on tiredness and can, in some cases, do more harm than good. Drink enough water, and avoid sugary drinks and junk food to minimise the consequences of a spike in blood sugar levels.
Ignoring signs of fatigue while driving could be lethal: constantly yawning, losing concentration, difficulty in keeping your eyes open, drifting or straddling lanes or unnecessarily varying your speed likely means that you need to rest before continuing on your journey.
Don’t be fooled, driving while tired, drowsy or sleepy is considered to be impaired driving. Driving in these conditions severely reduces attention, curtails hazard identification, and decreases driver reaction times leading to greater stopping distances and the increased likelihood of a crash occurring. This explains why most international road safety research institutions now correctly include driver fatigue with drunken and distracted driving under the broader definition of impaired driving.