Thursday, 24 September 2009 - 1:24pm |
National News

Driver Fatigue

2 min read

In the wake of the triple fatality in the Canterbury suburb of New Brighton last week, where the driver has acknowledged that he fell asleep at the wheel, it is timely to raise the issue of driver fatigue says Inspector Al Stewart, Canterbury Road Policing Manager.

"Fatigue is under-represented in crash statistics; contributing to more crashes than we realise, but being difficult to detect at the scene of a fatality," says Inspector Stewart. "However, it is becoming clear that fatigue is a major contributing factor to serious injuries and fatalities on New Zealand roads and is being conservatively estimated as a contributing factor in 12 per cent of all crashes."

In 2007 fatigue was identified as a contributing factor in 48 fatal crashes, 130 serious injury crashes and 554 minor injury crashes. These crashes resulted in 54 deaths.

"You can be fatigued enough to impair your driving long before you start to 'nod off' at the wheel and it is important to watch for the signs, such as weariness, exhaustion, yawning, tired eyes and micro-sleeps," says Inspector Stewart. "When fatigued, your reactions are much slower, your ability to concentrate is reduced, and it takes longer to interpret and understand the traffic situation. This results in difficulty keeping your car within its lane, drifting off the road, variation in speeds, and poor reaction time to avoid dangerous situations."
Fatigue affects a wide range of the community. A large number of young people are affected due to their frequent late-nights and risk taking on the roads. Shift workers, including night-shift workers, are more likely to have disrupted sleep patterns, and people with sleep disorders, especially the elderly, who have a consistently disrupted quality of sleep leading to a constant state of fatigue.

"There are some simple things you can do to reduce your risk of being affected by fatigue. Try to get adequate sleep prior to any long trip and plan to drive during the times of the day that you are normally awake. Limit your journey distances, staying overnight en-route where you can. Schedule regular breaks into your trip, and make use of any available roadside stops, such as the three 'driver reviver' stops scheduled for the Hurunui over the Labour Weekend break," advises Al Stewart. "Eat sensibly and ensure you remain hydrated, but avoid large meals as they can make you drowsy, and share the driving among the people travelling where possible. Avoid taking both prescription and over-the-counter medicines that lead to drowsiness and get as much fresh air into the car as you can."

"Any fatality on our roads is a tragedy and has a devastating effect on members of the family involved. This effect is compounded where the crash was avoidable. Drivers need to ensure that when they get behind the wheel of a car they have taken all possible steps to be in the best possible driving condition. The safety of their families and our families depend on it."