Managing Driver Fatigue

A tired driver is a dangerous driver. There are no two ways about it. Drowsy drivers tend to make more mistakes on the road because sleepiness slows reaction time and impairs judgment. While nobody is immune to feeling tired, studies show that some people are more likely to be sleep deprived than others, such as shift workers and 18 to 25-year-olds.

The 18-25 age group tends to be involved in more fatigue-related accidents because of inexperience behind the wheel, lack of sleep and irregular sleep patterns. The latter holds true for shift workers as well. Your brain is programmed to put your body to sleep at certain times of the day. In the mid-afternoon and especially in the early hours of the morning, your brain will send signals to your body to go to sleep. At night, your body temperature falls, digestive system slows and hormonal production rises to repair your body. All these changes will make you feel drowsy and, try as you may, you will not be able to fight the fatigue by opening the window or playing loud music. Despite what you may have heard, cooler temperatures will not keep you awake. While you may think that you are more alert, the fatigue remains at the same level. Only sleep can cure tiredness.

The best way to survive the drive is to be aware of the symptoms of fatigue and effectively manage them.

Spot the symptoms of fatigue

There are several signs of tiredness that you should watch for when you’re on the road. Driving instructors will tell you that the moment you spot any one of these signs, it is time to pull over and take a break.

You cannot remember the last few kilometers driven. This is always a good indicator of fatigue because it shows that you haven’t been alert while driving.
You find it difficult to keep the car in a straight alignment, drifting from one lane to another.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to concentrate, and keeping your eyes open and your head up is almost impossible.
You yawn repeatedly.
You tailgate or miss traffic signs.
You should consider yourself extremely fortunate if you’ve spotted any one of these signs and haven’t already crashed the car. Now that you recognize the symptoms of fatigue do not hesitate to take a break and recharge.

Surviving the drive

You may not be able to fight drowsiness, but you can protect yourself from having a fatigue-related crash.

Get a good night’s rest before you leave for your journey. Because sleep is important, avoid leaving for a long trip straight after work. Chances are, you’ll be tired when you start your trip.
Keep driving to a maximum of eight to ten hours a day and drive at times when you are normally awake.
Avoid carbohydrate-laden foods that will make you sleepy. Choose protein-laden foods instead.
It is useful to have a co-driver in the car. This person can take over the wheel at any time and can keep you company while you are driving.
Make sure air is continuously flowing into the car from outside. Car cabins build high levels of gasses such as carbon monoxide, so it is important to have fresh air constantly coming in.
Take a break! Do this regularly, at least every 2 hours, even if you don’t need to stop at a petrol station or feel spritely. When you do take a break, make sure you stop for at least 15 minutes and get out of the car for a stroll.
Stay sober. If you think that driving when you’re drowsy is bad, can you imagine how much worse it would be to add alcohol to the mix?
Everything you’ve learned in your driving lessons will help you during your drive. But remember, the only cure for fatigue is sleep. So if you feel tired when driving, it will do everyone some good for you to pull over for a power nap.