Unmasking the effects of driver fatigue

By Prof Geoffrey Wango

Every day, many drivers embark on their journeys. But they crisscross cities and highways unaware of a covert threat lurking within their vehicle. We are talking about driver fatigue, a silent and relentless adversary that, when underestimated, can lead to disastrous consequences on the road.

The anatomy of fatigue:

Fatigue, in the context of driving, is not just about feeling tired after a long day’s work. It is the culmination of extended hours behind the wheel, stretching into the realms of 6 to 8 hours, that results in chronic tiredness and saps one’s energy. Prolonged work without adequate rest can lead to sleeplessness, often accompanied by the ever-persistent companions of headaches, dizziness, muscle pains, and mood swings.

While an occasional bout of tiredness is normal, insistent fatigue can be attributed to factors like illness, travel, medication, demanding work schedules, sleep disturbances, or dietary changes. It is like an uninvited guest that overstays the welcome period, affecting not only our ability to work but also the most mundane daily activities, driving included.

The consequences of driver fatigue are far from benign. It is akin to a ticking time bomb that impairs decision-making, judgment, and reflexes. As fatigue creeps in, drivers may find themselves swerving off the road, colliding with other vehicles, or losing control. In the event of mechanical failure or slippery roads, the results can be catastrophic, leading to injuries or, tragically, fatal crashes.

Fatigue does not just limit itself to a single journey; it has both short and long-term health effects. The signs are subtle but evident: the driver, without realizing it, relinquishes control. Psychologists delve into the root causes of driver fatigue, often tracing it back to the burdensome workload, long-distance driving, and the isolation of solitary car journeys. Despite regulations restricting driving hours and promoting additional drivers, many individuals and companies still push the envelope, straining the limits of endurance.

The spectre of driver fatigue is not confined to civilian life; it is an issue that haunts military operations as well. Operational demands can lead to stretched limits where regulations alone may not suffice. As a result, single drivers soldier on throughout the day and night without replacements. Nevertheless, a driver’s well-being should never be sacrificed for necessity. Adequate rest or substitution with a competent driver, when feasible, is essential.

An array of factors can contribute to driver fatigue, including poor dietary habits, dehydration, alcohol, drug and substance abuse, and anxiety.

Fatigue management 

Fatigue management is not a pipe dream but a vital necessity. Some of the strategies include maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and steering clear of alcohol and substances. Drivers need to manage stress, get sufficient rest before hitting the road, and enjoy a power nap during breaks. 

Remember, fatigue is the enemy that toggles the mind on and off, trying to close one eyelid at a time while you desperately prop the other open. In the end, the mind weakens, and control slips away. The only solution is to pull over and take that much-needed break, because the consequences of fatigue on the road can be, and often are, costly. 

Do not leave it to fate; instead, confront fatigue with rest before your body and mind slip beyond reach. In the pursuit of road safety, understanding and addressing driver fatigue is not just an option—it is a responsibility. 

Prof. Geoffrey Wango is an Assistant Professor in Counselling Psychology at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. Email: gwango@uonbi.ac.ke

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