Driver Fatigue and the Dangers of Driving While Tired

Driver Fatigue

Driver fatigue is one of the biggest causes of road accidents and deaths in Australia and Apex Car Rentals is acutely aware that renters coming off long-haul flights pose the greatest risk.

We take road safety seriously and are often surprised by our customers preparedness (or lack thereof) to drive long distances. Australia is a big country and it is easy to underestimate travelling times, which can make fatigue a big safety factor.

Fatigue goes beyond a simple feeling of tiredness and impacts both your physical and mental states, which leads to exhaustion and a lack of alertness.

When your alertness levels dip, your judgement is affected and you start to make poor driving decisions, which can lead to accidents.

Please check out our guide on Safe Driving in Australia

Signs of fatigue while driving

  • You begin to blink
  • You can’t stop yawning
  • You have trouble keeping your head up
  • Your eyes close for a moment or go out of focus
  • You have wandering and disconnected thoughts
  • You find that you can’t remember driving the last few kilometres
  • You miss a road sign or exit
  • You find you have slowed unintentionally
  • You brake too late

What causes fatigue?

The three main causes of fatigue are:

1. Lack of Sleep – not enough sleep or having interrupted sleep (i.e. when travelling on a long-haul flight) is the main cause of fatigue. We all have different sleep patterns, but an average human likes seven to eight hours of sleep each day. And when you’re travelling, your sleep routine is broken and it is difficult getting a full night’s sleep. This is likely to cause fatigue, which can accumulate as your sleep continues to be limited.

2. Circadian Rhythms – circadian rhythms control our body clock, which in turn controls when we feel sleepy. Our circadian rhythm of sleep is regulated by the hormone melatonin and a person with a normal sleep-wake cycle has melatonin released at night, coordinating mental and physical systems throughout the body.


3. Time Spent Driving – research shows that the longer people spend driving without a break, the greater their level of fatigue. Remember to STOP – REVIVE – SURVIVE.

  • STOP – if you’re starting to feel tired or fatigued while driving, pull over in a rest area and stop. You should take a break every two hours or 100km of your journey.
  • REVIVE – on a break, get out of the vehicle and walk, jog, or stretch. If you’re really tired, have a sleep. If you’ve added an Additional Driver to your rental contract, it’s time to swap drivers.
  • SURVIVE – take your time travelling, plan ahead, check the driving distances, and be very careful driving on unfamiliar roads. We want all of our customers to return home safely with happy memories of their trip to Australia. Stay safe!

Early Warning Signs of Fatigue

The following are some of the early symptoms of fatigue:

  • constantly yawning or drowsiness, feeling very relaxed or falling asleep
  • difficulty keeping your eyes open, having heavy eyelids or blurred vision
  • lack of concentration, feeling spacey or fuzzy brain, having wandering or disconnected thoughts, daydreaming
  • slowed reflexes and general clumsiness
  • making errors of judgement
  • having trouble with your short term memory
  • feeling grumpy and moody
  • suffer from headaches or dizziness.

Good Sleep Beats Driver Fatigue

Most humans need at least seven hours continuous sleep each night to operate at an optimal level. Anything less than this and you’ll start to accumulate ‘sleep debt’. It might be ok for a short period, but eventually you’ll need a good long sleep to catch up and clear the ‘sleep debt’.

For example, if you lose two hours sleep each day for four days in a row you will feel like you’ve missed one night of sleep. Forcing yourself to stay awake and losing sleep greatly increases the dangers of a road accident.

Tips for getting good sleep:

  • Avoid Stimulants – consuming caffeinated drinks (i.e. tea, coffee, soft drinks) and smoking cigarettes (nicotine) prior to going to bed can disrupt your natural sleep patterns, so should be avoided.

  • Don’t Over-Indulge – avoid eating too much food or consuming alcohol just before bedtime. Food and alcohol need time to breakdown and sleeping on a full stomach can disturb your sleep later on in the night.
    WARNING: Do not drive drunk. If you have consumed alcohol late at night, please don’t drive the next morning. Make sure you eat a full breakfast and are fully sober before getting behind the wheel.