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Did you know? Going without sleep for 24 hours has the same effect as a blood-alcohol reading of 0.1 – double the legal limit.

Being exhausted at the wheel can be deadly. With driver fatigue being one of the three top killers for Victorian road users, it’s important to know when you need to stop, revive and survive.

Every year, driver fatigue contributes to around 20 per cent of our state road death toll statistics, affecting the lives of those injured and killed, as well as their loved ones and the community.

While it may be convenient to assume that heavy transport vehicles are primarily responsible for these crashes, statistics show this is not the case.

In fact, ordinary vehicles not only cause the most accidents, but most fatalities occur during a weekday rather than on a weekend. Friday evenings are particularly high risk, which could be linked to shiftwork, a long working week and other factors.

Think about it. If a driver falls asleep for just four seconds while travelling at a speed of 100km/h, the car will have travelled 111 metres with no one in control.

As driver fatigue can affect anyone, anytime, it’s important to recognise the causes and signs.

What causes driver fatigue?

Fatigue can be due to many factors, but commonly may include:

  • A lack of quality sleep (at least six hours).
  • A change to your body’s normal sleep and wake pattern.
  • A medical condition, such as sleep apnoea or diabetes.

Even the best drivers may experience driver fatigue, as it is a biochemical reaction – the direct physical, mental and emotional result of not getting enough sleep.

Are you at riskof driver fatigue?

You may be at risk of driver fatigue if you:

  • Are a shiftworker
  • Are travelling a long distance
  • Haven’t eaten or slept properly in the past 24 hours
  • Feel tired, lethargic or overly restless
  • Have heavy or sore eyes
  • Are daydreaming frequently
  • Can feel yourself ‘nodding off’ at the wheel
  • Are making driving mistakes
  • Find it difficult to concentrate

How do I combat driver fatigue?

While winding down the window or having a cup of coffee might help in the short term, the only real way to combat driver fatigue is to get adequate rest.

Before driving, make sure you’ve had a proper sleep and feel rejuvenated and alert. Avoid alcohol and other depressants, and eat proper, well-balanced meals.

Victoria has a rest area strategy to help drivers recover from the effects of fatigue. Be sure to take advantage of these rest areas while on the road, because even a short 10-minute power nap can significantly help with driver fatigue.

If your fatigue is due to a medical condition, speak to your GP or specialist doctor about what steps you can take to improve your safety on the roads, as well as the safety of others.