It’s a harsh but true statement. Driver fatigue is one of the leading causes of road accidents in Australia and is as dangerous as driving under the influence or speeding. It is commonly assumed that driver fatigue only refers to falling asleep at the wheel; however, feeling tired, weary, or drained is enough to significantly affect your driving abilities and can cause micro sleeps long before you fully doze off behind the wheel.
Fatigue-related accidents can happen on any trip, no matter how long or short. You should always think about how tired you are before you drive but it's much more important to avoid fatigue if you are planning an extended road trip that could see you driving for longer than you normally would.
There are many articles and sites giving advice on what to do if you are feeling tired while driving – but the most important advice of all is to do what you can do avoid getting tired in the first place. Let's look at some things that can help you avoid fatigue on your next road trip.
Don’t start straight after school or work. It's tempting to start your road trip straight away to maximise time at your destination – but a long drive after a full day of work or study is dangerous, especially if it means driving at night when your body is used to being asleep or relaxed.
Set yourself up correctly. Bad posture and poorly adjusted car seating causes aches and pains, which lead to driver fatigue setting in early. It's particularly important if you're driving a hire car, or a vehicle that you're not familiar with, to take time adjusting the seat and steering wheel properly before you set off to ensure maximum comfort. Make sure you have also correctly adjusted all the mirrors to give you the best, clearest view of your vehicle and surrounds to avoid straining your neck to keep clear vision.
Don’t forget to reset the seats and mirrors when you switch drivers – which you should, regularly - because sharing the drive is great way to alleviate driver fatigue.
Start with a good night's sleep. Resist the urge to stay up late getting everything packed and ready the night before so you get that extra time at your destination. Lack of sleep is the biggest factor in driver fatigue both in daily driving and on long trips. Studies have shown that the effect of driving while sleep deprived is the equivalent of driving while intoxicated with alcohol. Take an extra day to fully prepare yourself for a long drive and allow a good night's sleep. Arriving safely is more important than anything.
Pack right and be less uptight! Rattles and squeaks in or on your vehicle can be irritating and your mood can have a direct impact on your energy levels and concentration. Do what you can to reduce noise in the vehicle by making sure any luggage or items you are travelling with are packed securely and are not rattling around on the floor of the car, on the roof rack or even in trailers and vans. Most importantly, make sure nothing obscures your vision. Worrying about your packed items can distract you and make your drive harder than it needs to be. Making sure everything is secured and safely stowed before you leave will mean less for you to worry about – leaving you to concentrate where you need to.
Plan your trip well from the start. Including where you can take a safe and restful break from driving.Interactive maps such as google let you accurately plan your route and calculate distance, but always remember to add some extra time and factor in some pre-planned rest breaks and sleep breaks. You should take a good 15-minute break every two hours and never drive for more than 8-10 hours per day - with a good 8 hours sleep between each day. So, if your trip planner map says a drive will take 7 hours - add an extra hour of break time, on top of any site seeing stops or petrol top ups. Avoid the stress and mental fatigue that can be caused by the feeling you’re running behind schedule, or late for an event. Preventing tiredness with pre-planned rests is a much safer way to road trip than trying to find ways to overcome tiredness once you are feeling it.
Throughout Australia there are rest stops specifically created for the purpose of taking a short break - such as Driver Reviver sites. The Driver Reviver program offers free tea/coffee and a biscuit whilst taking a break and has been operating since 1989 with over 180 roadside locations across the country, entirely run by volunteers. Find out more at https://www.driverreviver.com.au
Check out some other handy resources for finding and planning rest stops at :
Even if you have pre-planned stops – if you feel tired while driving don’t wait till your next planned break – STOP at the next safe available place and rest. Get out and walk around, breathe some fresh air and stretch your body. Try to take a 20-minute power nap.
Don’t 'push through' just because you're close. When you’re ‘nearly there’ it’s tempting to skip that last rest stop, but the majority of accidents happen closest to the destination. Unfortunately, it is at that point of a trip when drivers are most tired and often have started to relax. Take that break and you'll be there, safely, before you know it.
Your energy levels aren’t the only thing that contributes to driver fatigue - Many drivers experience extra fatigue due to car maintenance issues that can make long drives even more challenging than they need to be. Let's explore some common car problems that can contribute to driver fatigue and how our Repco Authorised Service Centres can help you prevent them.
Tyres are the only point of contact between your car and the road, making them a critical component of safe driving. Worn out tyres and poor wheel alignment can significantly impact your car's handling, especially on long drives. They can cause your car to pull to one side, making it difficult to keep it in a straight line. This can lead to driver tiredness as you constantly have to adjust your steering to keep the car on track.
Wheel alignment problems can also increase the effort it takes to steer your vehicle, which means you will get tired faster when driving for extended periods of time or on curvy holiday roads. And making sure your wheel alignment is correct before a long trip means your tyres will wear more evenly which means you wont have to replace them as often.
A faulty suspension can make your car feel bumpy and unstable, especially on uneven roads. This can cause your car to sway and bounce, making it difficult to maintain control. As a result, you may have to grip the steering wheel tightly, leading to muscle fatigue and discomfort.
Book a safe-t-stop before your next road trip. Worrying about break-downs or the condition of your vehicles brakes, suspension or steering isn't the best way to start a relaxed road trip. A Safe-T-Stop test will provide an added safety check that goes beyond a general inspection and road test to scientifically test your braking capacity and ensure maximum stopping performance. Safe-T-stop also tests your wheel alignment on both front and rear axles and the actual drag from your tyres on the road surface.
A malfunctioning air conditioning system can not only make you feel fatigued but also affect your concentration and reaction time.
Driving in a hot and stuffy car can be extremely uncomfortable and tiring, especially during long drives. An overly cold car can make you uncomfortable and distracted and if the defogger is not working correctly this can affect your ability to see clearly which is dangerous as well as causing your eyes to strain harder.
To avoid these issues, have your air conditioning system checked and serviced regularly. This will ensure that it is working properly and provide a comfortable driving experience.
The quality of air in your vehicle can impact your attention and comfort. Stale air can make you tired, and bacteria living in your AC system or air filter can cause headaches and weariness. Turn off the air recycling function on your air con system to keep fresh oxygen coming in – but make sure you have a fresh and clean cabin air filter installed to maximise prevention of dust and allergens from entering your system. Ask your local Repco Authorised Service Centre to check your cabin air filter and ask about sanitising services which can remove mould and microorganisms from your system.
Sometimes you can be so focussed on getting to your destination to relax, that the lead up and the journey can put stress levels at an all-time high - and that’s never good when you’re on the road and trying to stay both calm and alert. How can we help your state of mind you ask? Well, that’s simple - knowing that your vehicle is in the best condition possible helps you maintain peace of mind on your next road trip. Worrying about the condition of your brakes on unknown roads or the radiator overheating when you're driving through the desert is not going to help you be at your best – either during the drive or when you arrive.
Having a fully qualified technician check your vehicle with a comprehensive vehicle inspection will identify any issues that might cause problems on the road and go a long way to knowing that your vehicle doesn’t have any hidden issues, which means less worry for you – and anything that can help you relax on your next road trip is a win in our books.