Tiredness, or fatigue, was a contributing factor to 46 fatalities and 166 serious injuries in Tasmania in the 10 years to 30 December 2012, but it could be contributing to many more. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has reported being tired is a factor in up to one in three fatalities and serious injuries throughout Australia.

The two main causes of tiredness while driving are lack of quality sleep and driving at times normally for sleep. It is alarming that 16 percent of Australians have reported falling asleep behind the wheel. It’s what happened to Tasmanian woman Kirby Barker who fell asleep while driving. Kirby’s story is a warning of what can happen when you drive tired.

When driving it is important you are well rested before you begin your journey, particularly if you are travelling long distances on rural highways and roads. The danger signs of tiredness when driving include:

  • Constant yawning and sore or heavy eyes
  • Delayed reactions
  • Difficulty remembering the past few kilometres
  • Drifting into another lane
  • Daydreaming
  • Varying driving speed.

You put yourself at risk of a tiredness-related crash if you:

  • Drive in the early morning (between midnight and 6am), most of us would usually be asleep at this time
  • Start a trip after a long day’s work or when you are already tired
  • Have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea (heavy snoring).

Find out how tired you are

This Transport for NSW test may surprise you. Try it here.

Six ways to avoid tiredness

  1. Have at least seven hours uninterrupted sleep before your trip
  2. Do not to travel for more than eight or 10 hours per day
  3. Share the driving and listen to your passengers if they tell you that you look tired
  4. Avoid alcohol before driving or during rest breaks
  5. Take a 10-minute break every 1.5 to two hours
  6. Use the Road Safety Advisory Council/ State Emergency Service Take A Break sites (list of sites here)  which operate on long weekends.

It is important to take regular breaks to help avoid the onset of fatigue when travelling but these breaks may only delay the onset of tiredness. Once tired, you must sleep as coffee, fresh air and playing loud music to keep alert will not combat it.

If you are driving a heavy vehicle it is important to know there are legal limits as to how long you can drive without a break and how long you can drive per day. You must also keep a record of your driving hours in a log book. For more information, see page 29 of the Heavy Vehicle Handbook that can be downloaded here.