Drivers are being urged to think of the journey, not focus on the destination when they get behind the wheel these school holidays, as a way to encourage people to take seriously the effects of driver fatigue.
Dr Chris Watling, from QUT’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety – Queensland (CARRS-Q), said despite driver fatigue accounting for an estimated 15 per cent of fatal crashes in Queensland, sleepiness was often ignored by drivers in favour of reaching their destination.
“Studies have shown that between 60 and 80 per cent of drivers will report feeling sleepy while driving, but what is really concerning is that 70 per cent won’t stop once aware of their increased sleepiness,” he said.
“Just pulling over, stopping for a coffee, taking a short nap or stretching your legs for 15 minutes during a long drive reduces your risk of falling asleep and crashing.”
Dr Watling said people, by nature, were motivated to reach their destination once they began driving and consquently ignored the risks and the signs of driving tired.
“What we are suggesting is people plan their journey and schedule stops along the way to take advantage of the sights and stop at points of interest,” he said.
“Sleepiness has been shown to significantly impair a person’s cognitive and psychomotor abilities, which impact safety-critical tasks such as driving, attention, working memory and coordination.
“Driving tired has also been shown to have a comparable crash risk to drink driving.”
Dr Watling said being awake for 17 hours had the same effect as having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 per cent, and 20 hours awake was roughly equal to a 0.10 per cent BAC.
But he said drivers don’t consider the impairment the same.
“Unlike drinking alcohol, sleep is a vital human need. Everyone has to sleep and no single person is immune to the effect of sleepiness – the impairment from sleepiness needs to be considered in the same way as the impairment from drink driving,” he said.
Dr Watling said with more than 400 rest stops in Queensland, journeys should be planned to include a break.
“Not only does this reduce the risk of crashing, but it can also be a way to make the journey more enjoyable, for example by stopping somewhere for lunch or exploring a town you haven’t visited before.”
Some of the signs of sleepiness to watch out for when driving include:
- frequently changing position in your chair
- blinking more than usual and difficulty keeping your eyes open
- difficulty concentrating on driving
- slower reaction to traffic events
- increased variation in speed
- drifting in or across your lane
- dreamlike state of consciousness.