Driver Fatigue Management

Driver Fatigue Management

Guest post by George Robotham from


Driver fatigue is a major problem in Australia with often incredible distances to be driven. It is made worse when people drive long distances during holiday periods. Drive in –drive out employment in the resources industry is a particular area of concern. People completing a normal shift at work and then wishing to drive long distances is particularly asking for trouble.

What is driver fatigue?

Driver fatigue, or tiredness, is a general term used to describe the experience of being “sleepy”, “tired” or “exhausted”.

The effect of fatigue is both a physiological and a psychological experience and can severely impair judgement when driving. Driver fatigue can cause lapses in concentration which could prove fatal.

Fatigue is not just a problem for drivers on long trips as any drivers can also suffer from fatigue even on short trips.

Fatigue is involved in up to 30 per cent of fatal crashes and up to 15 per cent of serious injuries requiring hospital treatment. Being awake for more than 17 hours is similar to having more than two standard drinks and having a blood alcohol content of more than 0.05.

The problem with fatigue is that it slowly develops and drivers often do not realise they’re too tired to drive safely. Drivers must learn to recognise the warning signs and take a break before it is too late.

Causes of fatigue

• Inadequate amount or quality of sleep over an extended period.

• Sustained mental or physical effort.

• Disruption of the normal cycles of daytime activity and night sleep.

• Environmental stresses during sleep (such as light, heat and noise).

• Medication (some medications cause drowsiness).

• Diagnosed or undiagnosed sleep disorders (sleep apnoea, insomnia and narcolepsy).

• Obesity/bad dietary habits.

• Night work (causes sleep implications as daytime sleep is less restorative than nocturnal sleep).

• Workload and lifestyle choices (illness, childcare, sport, socialising, studying).

How to identify fatigue

• Repeated yawning.

• Loss of attentiveness.

• Slower reaction times.

• Impaired judgement.

• Feelings of drowsiness or tiredness.

• Reduced alertness.

• Sore, red and tired eyes.

• Dim or fuzzy vision.

• Droning or humming in ears.

• Wandering, disconnected thoughts.

• Mood swings (feeling irritable and restless).

• Daydreaming.

• Muscle stiffness and cramps.

• Difficulty keeping your head up or eyes open.

• Your driving speed creeps up or down.

• You find it difficult to maintain your lane position when driving.

How to prevent fatigue

In-vehicle fatigue management strategies

• Stop regularly, at least once every two hours and take short breaks. Walk around for a while, exercise and breathe deeply.

• Counteract fatigue with regular healthy food and drink. High protein and low glycaemic index (GI) foods are best, for example, a salmon sandwich on wholegrain bread. (Avoid excessive consumption of high calorie, high fat and high GI foods such as thick shakes as these can make you drowsy).

• Carry plenty of drinking water in the vehicle.

• Wear sunglasses when driving to minimise glare.

• Do not exceed the maximum driving periods specified by legislation.

• Check what prescription medicines you are taking – some can affect your alertness or cause drowsiness. Check with your pharmacist or doctor.

General fatigue management strategies –

• Ensure adequate sleep (minimum six consecutive hours in a single 24 hour period, however the average required on a sustained basis is about seven to eight hours).

• Set up conditions at home (and the vehicle) so you can get as much sleep as possible. (Reduce noise, light and disturbances).

• Enlist family support for a peaceful environment when sleeping (particularly when sleeping in daylight).

• Stress management (work related and personal).

• Improve general health and fitness. Exercise. Avoid being overweight.

• Have regular health checks. Ensure that you do not have a sleep disorder or other medical conditions that could affect your driving ability.

• Check what prescription medicines you are taking – some can affect your alertness or cause drowsiness. Check with your pharmacist or doctor.

Reference-Qld Government Information Bulletin, PT 21/07.11, Fatigue Management

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