Driver fatigue

Driving and fatigue are a dangerous mix, and increase your chance of being in a crash. That’s because driver fatigue affects your ability to concentrate, react and make good decisions.

Fatigue has similar effects on your driving skills as drinking alcohol. So the same message applies - don’t drive if you’re fatigued.

To avoid driver fatigue plan ahead

  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Take regular breaks (every couple of hours)
  • Avoid driving when you would normally be asleep
  • Share the driving if you can
  • Take fruit and healthy snacks to eat and plenty of water to keep hydrated and alert.

Recognise and act on early warning signs of driver fatigue

We don’t necessarily recognise when fatigue is getting worse, so watch for and act on the early signs such as:

  • lots of yawning, loosing focus, blinking more or getting tired eyes
  • thinking you should wind the window down, turn the music up or buy a coffee so you’re more alert.

Action:

If you notice these signs don’t try to hang on until you get to your destination. You should get someone else to drive or have at least a 20-30 minute break. Don’t start driving again until you feel refreshed and more alert.

If you don’t feel really alert when you start driving again you’re a danger on the road and at risk of crashing.

Recognise and act on the warning signs of danger from driver fatigue

You are in danger if you:

  • feel your head nod down or jerk up
  • become aware you’ve moved unintentionally in your lane or unintentionally changed speed
  • notice where you are on a familiar route but you don’t remember passing particular places
  • realise with a start you need to brake heavily to avoid a hazard.

These four danger signs mean just one thing - you’ve been asleep at the wheel for a few seconds. In other words, you’ve had a microsleep.

In these 3 or 4 seconds when you are asleep at the wheel you can travel nearly the length of a rugby field. A lot can go wrong in that time and you’re not awake to take any corrective action.

Action:

If you notice any of these danger signs you need to stop driving and sleep.

The best option is to have a proper sleep, ie sleep for 7-8 hours in a bed. If this isn’t possible:

  • pull over somewhere safe as soon as you can
  • move out of the driver’s seat
  • settle down
  • sleep for no more than 20 minutes
  • spend 10 minutes or so becoming fully awake and alert again
  • start driving again.

This is called having a powernap. Don’t take a longer nap or you’ll wake up groggy and disoriented. A powernap will refresh you enough to continue driving but you should have a sleep of 7-8 hours as soon as possible as well.

Driver fatigue is a workplace issue

If you drive as part of your job, you and your employer share responsibility to keep you safe on the road. This includes managing the risk of driver fatigue. For more information about workplace fatigue, see Fatigue in the workplace.

Related information

Last updated: 7 July 2014

Last reviewed: 12 June 2014