By Lauren Ferrone
Published: Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Ever nodded off for a split second before suddenly jolting awake? Sounds harmless, especially if you’re in bed. Now picture dozing for 4 seconds behind the wheel.
A driver who has a 4 second microsleep at 100km/h will travel 111m without control of their vehicle.
So, what are microsleeps and how do they happen? They’re quick episodes of sleep or drowsiness, which generally last from a microsecond to half a minute.
While the exact cause of microsleeps isn’t fully understood, they’re believed to happen when parts of the brain fall asleep while other parts remain awake.
But the consequences of drowsy driving last much longer than a few seconds. In fact, fatigue is ranked as a major factor in road crashes and considered as dangerous as drink driving.
Research also shows that not sleeping for more than 17 hours is the same as having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05. No shut eye for 24 hours? That has the same effect as being double the legal BAC limit.
Did you know?
A driver who has a 4 second microsleep at 100km/h will travel this far without control of their vehicle:
RAA Senior Manager of Safety and Infrastructure, Charles Mountain, says motorists make a choice to drive tired, just as they do when driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“Driver sleepiness is particularly dangerous because it can affect anyone, no matter how experienced a driver they might be,” Mr Mountain says.
“That’s why it’s important drivers know their limits and listen to their bodies.
“They should take it upon themselves to pull over well before they begin nodding off,” he says.
If you suspect a driver of another vehicle is driving drowsy, RAA advises to keep clear.
SA Police recommend calling 131 444 and reporting the vehicle. Get your passenger to call if you’re driving, or if you’re travelling solo, pull over at a safe location and call them yourself.
RAA is calling for motorists to wake up (literally) to the dangers of driving drowsy, especially during the silly season.
What the law says
Drowsy drivers can be fined for driving without due care. The maximum penalty for this is a $2500 fine, plus a $160 Victims of Crime Levy and 3 demerit points. Drivers may also be required to attend court.
Busting sleep myths
Will coffee keep me awake?
Only for so long. Levels of caffeine peak in the blood within 15 to 45 minutes of consumption, but the buzz tends to dissipate quickly – especially if your body has become immune to the drug.
Will fresh air cure my fatigue?
Cracking the car window down a smidge might help you get some fresh air; however, just like chugging coffee, it’s only a quick fix. It’s safer to pull over at a designated rest stop and hop out for a little bit. Alternatively, you could recline your seat and try catch up on some much-needed rest while you’re parked safely.
What about loud music?
Sing-alongs in the car are great during road trips, but save your voice if you’re feeling drowsy. You may make it through a couple of Taylor Swift songs, but your body’s need for sleep will eventually override your brain’s attempts to stay awake.
Remember: the only solution to your sleepy situation is to sleep – but not at the wheel.
Here are our top tips before you buckle up:
- Get a full night of sleep before driving – preferably 7–8 hours.
- Avoid driving at certain times. A Flinders University sleep study shows the body is biologically primed for sleep between 2am and 6am and at around 3pm.
- Avoid driving alone and, on longer trips, share the driving with a passenger.
- Don’t be tempted to push on to the next town – stop and rest before it’s too late.
- Pull over at a rest stop and take a nap if you need to.