‘The Silent Killer’

Until relatively recently, decades of taxpayer funded advertising campaigns against speeding overshadowed what is now commonly referred to as ‘the silent killer’: fatigue.

For years state governments have bolstered their coffers by cracking down on speeding motorists, loudly proclaiming that speed is the critical factor in all crashes. Obviously, it is a key ingredient as vehicles don’t tend to collide whilst stationary. However, other crucial elements such as a need for far better driver education, more thorough and regular vehicle safety inspections, as well as a change in driver culture leading to a heightened situational awareness in general– have not been championed with the same zeal.

Unlike speeding, which has numerous points being debated – both for and against, the automotive world stands as one when it concerns the inherent danger of driver fatigue. Where calculated speeding is accompanied by specific arguments, such as an increased alertness on the part of the driver, less time spent in other motorists’ ‘blind spots’ on multi-lane roads and drastically reduced boredom and frustration levels on longer journeys, driving whilst fatigued has no supporters whatsoever.

So why do people drive while feeling fatigued? There are many reasons for people getting behind the wheel when they are tired. One simple reason is that it is not something that can be enforced easily. It’s much easier for the local traffic cop to ask, ‘Do you have a reason for driving 65km/h in a 60 zone?’ As opposed to, ‘Hi, this is a random fatigue check. Please tell me how many hours sleep you’ve had in the last 24 hours and bring to my attention any other personal factors that could impair your reaction time on your drive home tonight.’

Every interstate truck driver has mandatory rest times and a logbook, something which has seen a reduction in the number of fatigue related truck driver fatalities on our roads. However, introducing this to the general motoring community wouldn’t be the perfect approach as fatigue on our highways is only a part of a much broader issue. Although the highway slogan of ‘only sleep cures fatigue’ is true in that particular scenario – long stretches of highway are not the only roads prone to fatigued motorists. In recent times, much has been done to tackle highway fatalities, including encouraging people to plan their long trips more realistically and allow for sufficient rest stops. However, there are still challenges to overcome when it concerns addressing the issue of fatigued city drivers. Basically, any place that has a tired person behind the wheel of a motor vehicle becomes a danger zone.

There are multiple causes of fatigue which can affect someone driving down a busy suburban street in the middle of the day. Local communities need to pull together, along with employers and governments on both state and national level to try to resolve some of the underlying reasons for people driving while fatigued. People need to start looking at the mitigating circumstances behind lack of sleep and rest. Employers need to be encouraged to be more active in noticing the many different symptoms of fatigue and take initiative to raise concerns with staff if they have grounds to believe it may be adversely affecting their daily drive to or from work.

Lastly, each and every one of us needs to see it as a responsibility to monitor not only our own fatigue levels, but also those of friends and family, to ensure we are all doing everything we can to reduce the number of fatigue related deaths on our roads.