IF YOU’RE driving for more than two hours, stop; if you can’t remember the last 5km you drove, stop.
That’s Bendigo Highway Patrol’s simple advice for drowsy drivers on our roads.
It’s just as dangerous and deadly as drunk and drug driving. And just as avoidable.
“Everybody is different and has different ideas of what being tired is, but as a general rule more than two hours of driving is unsafe,” Senior Sergeant Ian Brooks said.
“You get to that mark and it’s time to stop, get out, have a run around your car and just spend 15 minutes on the side of the road parked a safe distance away from traffic.
“But that doesn’t take away the need for sleep.”
It’s something that the TAC agrees with. All day, sleep-inducing chemicals build up in your brain and eventually reach a tipping point, sending you off to sleep. This can happen anytime, anywhere, it says.
Their advice is to pull over for a 15-minute powernap.
Snr Sgt Brooks said driving at times when you’re usually asleep or resting was a major risk factor.
“A lot of people think it’ll be fine heading off after work for long weekends but after work is usually a time when your brain is resting,” he said.
“If your mind is starting to wander, stop and get out of the car. Get out of the driver’s seat and away from the car for a while.
“I do a lot of long distance driving and I get out every two hours, there’s been some cold nights where I’ve been standing out there but it helps.”
However Snr Sgt Brooks said people weren’t listening to advice, something which could prove fatal.
“I hear of people who say a solid three or four hours isn’t that tough of a drive — that’s unsafe in my opinion,” he said.
“The simplest rule is if you can’t remember the last 5km of road, any signs or landmarks you passed or bends, get out of the car, swap drivers or have a powernap.”
Snr Sgt Brooks said it’s often tourists who are putting themselves at risk. With winding roads, hills and wildlife already posing enough of a risk, he said there’s no need for drivers to put themselves and other road users in jeopardy.
“The Heathcote area is about two hours from Melbourne so it is the best place for tourists to stop,” he said.
“If people from Melbourne are heading to places such as Echuca, that last hour on country back roads — or even the Northern Hwy — is the most dangerous for them.”
While he hasn’t noticed a high rate of collisions, Snr Sgt Brooks said drivers at a lot of accidents he has attended haven’t had an excuse for leaving the road.
“Most people, either from embarrassment or various other reasons, won’t admit they were tired when they got behind the wheel,” he said.
“Hitting the rumble strips is a sign of a momentary lapse of concentration and a lot of new cars have lane departure warnings which flash and vibrate the steering wheel — these are indicators you’re not paying attention to the road.”
He says there’s one sure-fire trick to avoid disaster.
“The 5km rule means you’re on autopilot — turning on the air conditioner, putting the windows down and coffee are short-term fixes which won’t last,” he said.
“But again, the best thing to do is not get behind the wheel when you’re tired, it’s as simple as that.”