'One in five crashes fatigue-related'

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File photo: Bosch

Budget Insurance has urged South Africans to ensure that they get at least seven hours of sleep before embarking on a road trip this festive season.

Budget Insurance spokesperson Martin Janse van Rensburg cited the findings of a recent study by Virginia Tech Transportation, which found that 20% of car accidents are caused by fatigue. Previous estimates attributed fatigue to only 2% to 3% of accidents.

What made the study unique was that driver behaviour just prior to an accident was observed for the first time. In 20% of all accidents and 16% of all near accidents, the driver was showing fatigue. The researchers observed eye-lid closure, head bobbing, severe loss of facial musculature, and micro-sleep, which is when the eyes drift shut and then pop open again.

In Africa, the problem is thought to be even more pronounced: anecdotal evidence suggests that as many as 60% of truck accidents may be due to driver tiredness.

Over the 2012 festive season, driver fatigue was touted to be one of the top causes of road accidents, prompting the Western Cape Traffic authority to implement its controversial “fatigue management programme”. Traffic officers pulling over motorists had the authority to force drivers to rest if they seemed fatigued.

Though typically associated with long-distance driving, fatigue can set in after a long day at work or a late night out. Emotional stress, illness, boredom and sun glare can also cause fatigue.

Janse van Rensburg urges motorists to get at least seven hours sleep before a long-distance trip, and to avoid travelling during their body's downtime, which for most people is between 2am and 6am.

TIPS FOR AVOIDING FATIGUE

- Get at least seven hours of quality sleep before you leave on your journey.

- Wear good quality sunglasses.

- Eat a decent meal before you head out. Something nutritious and energising but not too heavy.

- If driving long distance, plan your trip to incorporate a 20-minute break every two hours. There are plenty of petrol station rest stops along the major routes.

- Do some walking during your break.

- Stay hydrated during your journey.

- Share the driving with another responsible driver.

- Try to avoid driving when you would normally be asleep.

- Do not consume alcohol before or during your drive.


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