Drowsy driving

Have you ever lost time at the wheel? Thinking back, you can't remember that last stretch of road - or worse, you can't understand how you came to cross the centre line or wander on to the left-hand verge? For a few seconds, sitting behind the wheel with your eyes closed - or even wide open - you were having a microsleep. Microsleeps are brief, unintended losses of attention ranging from a few seconds to several minutes that can happen while doing repetitive tasks such as driving.

Dangers of drowsy driving

If you do crash, these "asleep at the wheel" accidents are among the most destructive because the driver is incapable of reacting, for example swerving before a collision or turning a corner.

Did you know?

Studies have shown that a drowsy driver can be just as dangerous as a drunk driver.

Compared with countries such as Australia, the danger of drowsy driving is under-acknowledged in New Zealand.

This is partly because pinning the cause of a crash on fatigue or drowsiness can be difficult. Drivers may not even be aware they had zoned out - or may be unwilling to admit it. Also, the adrenalin rush after the crash can revive survivors and disguise their drowsiness.

As a result, the crash will often be reported by Police to the New Zealand Transport Agency as "lost control", which is one of the most common factors in fatal road crashes. The real cause or a contributing factor in these crashes may be fatigue or drowsy driving.

AA speaking up for motorists

More education and engineering solutions

The danger of drowsy driving is not given enough focus in New Zealand. The AA is calling for more education and advertising so motorists are aware of the risks.

The AA also supports road engineering measures that help combat drowsiness and fatigue, for example:

  • Rumble strips to wake drivers up before they veer out of their lane
  • Safer roadsides so tired drivers can recover control if their car strays on to the roadside verge (without hitting a pole, tree or ditch)
  • More rest areas and warning signs on roads known to be risky for drowsy driving crashes

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