Unpacking drowsy driving as  a latent cause of road deaths

Tatenda Chinoda Correspondent

Road traffic deaths continue to occur on our roads unabated. Equally, we must continue to generate collective road safety consciousness.

They say, the smoothness of a rock is a result of constant knocking. Easter Holidays are a couple of weeks away.

There will be unprecedented volumes of both vehicular and human traffic on our roads.

The risk of being involved in a road crash is high when you drive while you are tired or sleepy.

This condition is commonly referred to as ‘driver fatigue’, which incubates into ‘drowsy driving’.

The driver would be falling asleep at the wheel or is so exhausted that he or she makes serious – fatal – driving errors through failing on the system of vehicle control.

Research has shown that crashes caused by tired drivers are most likely to happen due to some of the following circumstances.

On long journeys and monotonous roads drowsy driving can happen.

Variety is the spice of life. Indeed, a continuous monotonous straight stretch of the road may result in driver fatigue.

A curve, downgrade or upgrade jerks the driver to perform related physical and mental navigation, thereby staying alive to driving.

Driving demands that the driver’s eyes be as agile as those of a monkey.

A fixed gaze is a recipe for disaster. It is an early warning sign of drowsy driving.

Road traffic accidents happen in seconds. Therefore, once every five seconds, the driver’s eyes and mind, yes the mind as the engine of the central nervous system, must attend to seeing habits like checking the road ahead: in the background, middle-ground and foreground (all distinct zones of visibility).

Also, the driver ought to check the blind spots (dip shoulder right, dip shoulder left), check the road at both sides, and also scan the road behind.

If the driver is not mentally and physically alert, he or she would be drowsing and cannot execute the recommended seeing habits.

The human mind is ordinarily conditioned to sleep at night.

Research shows that most fatal road traffic accidents occur during the night from 1800hrs – 0600hrs.

More than 80 percent of all declared national road traffic disasters [Regina Coeli, Masvingo Teachers’ College, Pro-Liner, King Lion, Dzivarasekwa, and Popoteke bus disasters, among others, occurred during the night.

The high probability of driver fatigue causing these fatal collisions cannot be ruled out.

This is compounded by driver risky behaviours such as speeding, drug and alcohol abuse, having less sleep than normal, taking medicines clearly marked that they may cause drowsiness, driving for and after long working hours or after long shifts especially night shifts.

Related to this is fatigue generated between 2 and 4pm, in the glaring heat of the sun especially after eating solid foods. Physical heat induces fatigue due to accumulated weariness. Another factor is metabolism.

It is recommended that a driver on a long trip avoids heavy lunch but takes a light meal as much as reasonable.

After eating heavy food, you need a siesta or sleep break.

If not, the process of digesting food into energy [metabolism] releases heat which causes drowsiness. Under the circumstances, sleeping at the wheel is not uncommon.

There are signs and symptoms that can suggest driver fatigue such as the following:

  • Yawning;
  • Tired ‘drooping’ eyes;
  • Boredom; inability to remember directions;
  • Restlessness;
  • Difficult focusing or concentrating; daydreaming / wandering thoughts;
  • Drifting in the lane; not remembering the last few minutes;
  • Poor judgement and slower reaction.

Drivers who notice one or more of these symptoms manifesting should stop the car immediately and take a rest, or ideally, get out of the car and stretch.

In more extreme cases of driver fatigue, the driver may need to pull over, take a nap and rest until he / she feels refreshed.

If there is another qualified driver, he or she may take over at the wheel.

Equally critical is the voice of the passengers when they notice their driver showing signs of fatigue.

Passengers must request or persuade or demand the driver to rest. If you cannot win him or her over, your only other option is to find alternative transport.

Tips for avoiding driver fatigue include:

  • Avoiding drinking and driving;
  • Stopping and resting after every two hours of continuous driving or switching drivers;
  • Carrying some passengers [if allowed] in your car for active conversation;
  • Have plenty of sleep the night before a long trip;
  • Avoid driving at night as much as possible;
  • Try not to start a trip late in the day;
  • If everything else fails, pull over until you are fit to drive!

A car has no brains, use your own. Driver self-awareness is critical.

Some drivers achieve highest levels of concentration when they play their favourite inspirational music at appropriate volume.

This keeps the driver’s soul edified, mind and eyes alert to the driving job.

Nevertheless, some drivers tend to be distracted at the sound of music.

There is no ‘cast in stone’ formula. Knowledge of self is best principle to apply. Always remember that the best ‘cure’ for fatigue is sleep. A normal and active human being needs at least six hours of sleep per day.

Easter Holidays are beckoning. The church is not spared of road deaths no-matter how much members speak in tongues. Common sense driving saves lives.

“Though shall not drive at night. Thou shall ensure that drivers do not stay all-night praying, but break to have at least six hours of sleep to be fit to drive other church members back home safely without incidences of fatigue”.

Journey mercies do not cure fatigue, rest does!

Tatenda Chinoda is a veteran defensive driving instructor and Roads4Life Champion for the African Region. Feedback: 0772966075, or Email [email protected] ]

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