Staying alert on the roads

DRIVING | April 2017

It’s a tradition for many Kiwis to head away on a long weekend. But with long weekends comes long drives and driver fatigue. The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) notes that there were 43 fatal crashes, 119 serious injury and 622 minor injury crashes in 2015 caused by driver fatigue.

It’s often thought that driver fatigue just means falling asleep at the wheel, but it also includes tiredness, weariness or exhaustion. It can impair your driving long before you ‘drift off’ at the wheel. For example:

  • It can cause slower reactions.
  • Decreased concentration.
  • It may take longer for you to understand traffic situations.

And the most common effects on your driving include:

  • Difficulty staying in your lane or drifting off the road.
  • Unnecessary changes in speed.
  • Reactions diminished in dangerous traffic situations.

Driver fatigue is difficult to identify as a contributor of a crash, so it is likely that it is under-recorded and contributes to more crashes than we actually realize.

Here's 12 practical tips to avoid driver fatigue:

  1. Get a good night’s sleep before driving long distances, preferably 8 hours.
  2. Avoid driving during the hours you would normally be sleeping.
  3. If you normally have a mid-afternoon nap, then you should avoid driving at this time.
  4. Make sure you’re fully awake before driving following a sleeping period.
  5. Share the driving when you can.
  6. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol.
  7. Plan your journey to include rest breaks, at least every 2 hours.
  8. Make sure you get plenty of fresh air.
  9. Snack on light, fresh foods. Leave the fatty, sugary or carbohydrate-filled foods that make you drowsy until you reach your destination.
  10. Try to avoid driving for several days following long distance air travel. Jet lag can creep up and hit you when you least expect.
  11. Listening to music can be a short term solution.
  12. Avoid taking medication that may lead to drowsiness.

For more information on driver fatigue, check out NZTA’s Fatigue Factsheet.