Microsleeps, the effects of fatigue


Driving is a very complex task and requires constant attention, scanning the area, identifying potential hazards and looking out for the behaviours of other drivers on the road. Driving while under the effects of fatigue significantly increase the risk of motor vehicle accidents for yourself and your drivers.

How can driver fatigue affect you?

Well picture this….. You’re driving your truck home after a long day’s work listening to music and focusing on the road. You notice you’re yawning has become constant and your eyelids start to close. You blink and try to focus your eyes, but suddenly you hear gravel hitting your cabin and immediately realise you have veered off the road. You slam your brakes just in time to avoid an upcoming tree.

If this scenario sounds familiar to yourself, or one of your drivers, you are lucky as you could have been a victim of a microsleep.

Microsleeps are short bursts of sleep and can last for a period of a few seconds to minutes, all without the driver even knowing they have fallen asleep. Driving whilst under the effects of fatigue is not limited to falling asleep at the wheel. As a driver, fatigue can cause you several problems including slowing your alertness, reaction and decision making time, poor lane tracking and maintenance of speed.

The rate of fatigue related accident claims has increased as of late with UAA, which could be attributed to the recent change of season.

Any rise in fatigue related accidents are concerning as these accidents have the ability to not only cause financial damage to your business, but could cost the life of yourself or your drivers. It is therefore necessary for businesses to implement a fatigue management plan.

In this article, we will examine the dangers of driving while fatigued, signs and symptoms of fatigue, how to manage driver fatigue and how your business can prepare your drivers to avoid fatigue related incidents.

What are the signs and symptoms of fatigue?

Fatigue related motor accidents can be very serious. Most fatigue related incidents are likely to occur during late night, early morning or mid-afternoon. The driver can leave their designated lane at high speed and will not have the appropriate motor response to attempt to avoid an accident.

Fatigue can be attributed to various factors including sleep loss, consumption of alcohol, certain medications and drivers working long hours.

As an employer, it is critical you make your employees aware of the symptoms of fatigue and how they should respond in order to avoid a fatigue related accident.

Here are the typical signs your drivers should be alert to indicating they may be suffering from fatigue:

  • Frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
  • Missing exits or traffic signs, or braking too late
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing eyes
  • Head nodding
  • Lane drifting
  • Feeling restless and irritable
  • Difficulty focusing, or forgetting driving the last few kilometres

Drivers must treat fatigue symptoms seriously, as it is their lives at risk. Drivers should:

  • Take a 15 minute break every 2 hours when travelling long distances;
  • Start the trip well rested and do not attempt a long haul trip while drowsy; and
  • Where possible, driving time should be shared with other passengers.

For those that operate heavy vehicles (which includes those with a gross vehicle mass of over 12t or buses fitted to carry more than 12 adults) you should review, and ensure that you comply with, the Heavy Vehicle (Fatigue Management) National Regulations.

Don’t Forget to ‘Stop, Revive Survive’

In an effort to reduce the number of fatigue related motor accidents, drivers are encouraged to ‘STOP REVIVE SURVIVE’. Drivers should be alert to motorway rest areas or plan rest breaks for long haul trips. Maps, guides and other information regarding rest areas in Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales can be accessed via the following links.

Drivers can use this information to plan specific breaks along their route:

How can our business reduce driver fatigue accidents?

There are a number of programs your business can introduce in an effort to reduce the potential to suffer an incident at the hands of driver fatigue:

  • Incorporate a fatigue management program into your workplace
  • Track the number of hours your drivers are working
  • Educate your drivers on the signs and symptoms of fatigue
  • Put practical policies in place on how your drivers should manage their fatigue
  • Include a segment on fatigue in any workplace meetings or knowledge test requirements, or look into new technologies to assist your workers in managing fatigue

How has technology responded to fatigue related accidents?

In an attempt to combat the significant problem of fatigue related road accidents, manufacturers are developing new fatigue recognition technologies. For instance:

Caterpillar developed a Driver Safety System which works by measuring eye closures and driver head positions to detect fatigue and alerts the driver through seat vibrations or alarms. The system even provides reporting so employers may implement risk mitigation strategies for fatigue before the incidents occur.Read more about it here.

Mercedes-Benz ‘Attention Assist’ alerts drivers who are displaying signs of fatigue. The system works by recognising steering errors in fatigued drivers alerting the driver by sending a message that the driver is in need of a rest stop.Read more about it here.

Drowsiness detection glasses have been created and measure the speed of the operator’s eyelid movements to detect fatigue.Read more about it here.

Driving whilst suffering the effects of fatigue puts not only the life of the driver at risk but the lives of passengers, other road users and pedestrians as well.

While new technologies are being developed in an attempt to reduce the number and severity of fatigue related motor accidents, the operator must at all times be alert to their level of fatigue and take appropriate measures to ensure they do not become a victim of a fatigue related motor accident.

Kind Regards

George Grasso
Chief Services Officer