The silent killer on our roads

Driven - - Contents - Re­port by ASHREF IS­MAIL | Images © ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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.

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