Are you planning a road trip to Western Australia? Did you know it has one of Australia's longest highways? That’s right, it’s the Great Northern Highway.

Driving long distances can cause fatigue, which is the main cause of 20% to 30% of fatal crashes in Australia. On Western Australian roads, specifically, driving fatigue is one of the common causes of car accidents.

If you do intend to take a road trip this holiday season, knowing how to recognise driver fatigue, and even some simple ways to prevent it, can help to keep you and your passengers safe.

Great Northern Highway Distance Sign

What is driving fatigue?

Fatigue is not the same as being ‘sleepy’. Even though lack of sleep is a key component, fatigue is a more complex issue. Fatigue is typically influenced by a person’s sleep and rest habits and cycles, psychological and physiological traits, and environmental conditions.

The consequences of fatigue can be seen in slow drivers’ reaction times and reduced attentiveness, and it can also affect judgement.

Research on fatigue driving conducted by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA) has shown that a driver's performance is equivalent to, or worse than, having a blood alcohol concentration level of 0.05 after 17 to 19 hours of sleep deprivation.

Maths shows us that if a driver shuts their eyes for 4 seconds while driving at 100 km/h, the car will have travelled 111 metres in that time.

Driving fatigue can affect everyone, even if you’re an experienced driver. Fatigue-related accidents can happen at any time, on short and long trips, and at any time of the day. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the main signs of fatigue and what to do if you experience them while driving.

What are the signs of driving fatigue?

Falling asleep while driving

There are some warning signs you should be aware of that will tell you you’re experiencing fatigue while driving. These include the following:

  • Wandering thoughts, finding it hard to concentrate and missing road signs
  • Feeling sleepy
  • Very heavy eyelids. Finding it difficult to keep your eyes open
  • Having difficulty maintaining speed, lane-switching, or veering off the road
  • Forgetting you've been driving the past few kilometres
  • Trying to keep you awake by winding the window down, turning up the music or air conditioning
  • Head nodding. This is the end-stage of drowsiness which indicates you are having microsleeps.

How to prevent fatigue while driving

Stretching next to a car

If you’re wondering how to avoid fatigue while driving, there are different strategies that will help you out, including:

  • Getting enough sleep the night before. Most crashes occur when drivers have had less than 6 hours of sleep, so it's quite dangerous to drive at night or during the sleepy period after lunch.
  • Taking a short power nap for 5 minutes if you must drive for long periods of time.
  • Sharing driving times with a friend, coworker, or family member. Swapping the driving time with another person can be a good idea to avoid fatigue. It will keep you both awake.
  • Taking breaks. If possible, take a break every two hours, stretch your body, and take a short walk.
  • Cleaning your vehicle. Squinting through a filthy windscreen will contribute to eye fatigue, which can result in slower reaction times and loss of concentration.
  • Don’t rely on external factors to keep you awake, such as music, air conditioning, or other passengers talking.
  • If available, drink some coffee or tea. Typically, caffeine will keep you alert for a short period of time. It may help you for one or two hours.
    Instead of having a large dose of caffeine, try to have small, regular doses, as it may help you better maintain alertness. Avoid sugar if possible since it can make you sleepier after 30 or 90 minutes.

Driving requires good hand-eye coordination, the ability to think ahead and plan, as well as the ability to pay attention to and respond appropriately to visual and auditory events.

Only getting enough rest will completely counteract the effects of fatigue. Try to rest up the night before you attempt a long drive.

Looking after yourself to avoid driver fatigue is equally as important as looking after your vehicle. If your car is due for a scheduled service, including a tyre fitting, truck call outs, crane tyres, Powerup batteries and full shim services, or new tyres, why not get in touch with us on your local store number to find out how we can be of assistance.

Remember to get some rest, drive safe, and ensure your vehicle is operating at its best.

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