Travelling long distances: Just how problematic is driver fatigue?

driver-fatigueAustralia is a massive country, with many truck drivers spending a large chunk of hours on the road to make deliveries by set deadlines.

While the logistics and road freight industry may have plenty of rules and regulations surrounding the amount of hours that a driver should be expected to drive for and, by extension, the amount of time for resting they’re permitted to take, driver fatigue is still a serious issue that plagues the industry.

The simple fact is that driver fatigue is serious issue, and it is responsible for a large portion of the fatal crashes that occur on Australian roads every year. Estimates place driver fatigue as being responsible of anywhere between 20 to 30 per cent of fatal crashes. It’s a statistic that needs to be taken more seriously, especially considering the weight and tragedy of lost lives.

Rural driving

For many truck drivers, chances are they’ll be taking on a lot of rural roads when travelling from point A to point B. There is a greater risk of succumbing to driver fatigue when driving along long stretches of quiet, rural road. The main reason being that a certain sense of monotony takes over.

In heavily populated areas and city streets, the constant stop and go helps keep drive alertness at an all-time high. By comparison, rural roads require very infrequent stops and there are nowhere near as many other drivers on the road to be accounted for. The result is that a driver can simply travel along the same stretch of road with minimal interruption, which creates an almost hypnotic level of monotony. With nothing to really look out for over long periods of time, this tends to tire the brain out, which only speeds up the state of driver fatigue.

There is a reason why crashes occur on rural roads, and driver fatigue is often a common culprit – both for truck drivers and your everyday traveller. Because even if it is an instance of microsleep, this split-second moment of sleep can be all it takes to have a driver veer off the road and crash.

Dealing with driver fatigue

Driver fatigue is serious, of that there is no doubt. But driver fatigue is also very manageable. The first logical rule, of course, is to pay attention to your body. If you’re starting to feel tired, you need to take a break. Fatigue can escalate quickly, starting with a few interspersed yawns, then growing to complete exhaustion and microsleeps in a matter of minutes.

Often it may just be the monotony getting to you. The simplest solution is to pull off to the side of the road or find a truck stop that’s nearby and take a break. This could include having a little nap or having something to eat and drink – a coffee always helps. Sugar is also worth having on the road with you as it can perk you up. You’d be surprised how much a short 15-minute break can get you back into working order. If, however, you start to feel tired again after a short rest, then this is a good sign that it’s not a rest you need, but a good night’s sleep.

When driving on rural roads, it’s likely fatigue will set on you quicker than it would if you were driving through heavily populated areas. The issue here is that while fatigue is natural, taking numerous breaks may be unfeasible if you have a deadline to adhere to. The solution to ensuring you avoid premature fatigue is to have things that will keep you stimulated and aware even when the long stretches of empty road come along.

Unfortunately, you can rarely have a passenger in your truck – if ever – to keep you company, but simple measures such as having the radio on, listening to music, eating lollies (or something else that will give you a boost of energy if sugar isn’t good for you) and even setting goals for yourself that you can mentally track (e.g. you plan to reach X town by a set time – no speeding, of course) can all help you maintain an alert frame of mind.

Regardless of how you deal with driver fatigue, the most important rule is to remember is that you should never push yourself. All necessary deadlines should be achievable under normal circumstances (while also taking into account the hours of sleep you need to have). So when you’re tired, don’t ignore it.


* Image source: Tony Bowden