We are in the middle of the summer travel season - and thus also in the high season for long car journeys. Drivers should make sure that they take regular breaks and get enough sleep before they set off, especially if they are traveling long distances to their recreational destination.
Bad or short sleep, but also driving at unusual times, increase exhaustion and lead to more carelessness when driving - this can represent an enormous safety risk in road traffic.
"The main problem is primarily that many drivers overestimate their own 'stamina' behind the wheel and suppress the body's warning signals of tiredness," says ÖAMTC traffic psychologist Marion Seidenberger. "Drowsing asleep at the wheel is just the tip of the iceberg - fatigue-related performance losses during steering become noticeable long before you actually 'nod off'."
Annual peak 2021: July saw the most accidents caused by fatigue
"Accidents caused by fatigue or microsleep usually end very badly," explains Seidenberger. "A particular risk are the so-called 'slip accidents', in which the vehicle leaves the road at high speed and often crashes into an obstacle without braking or falls down a slope." Ten fatal accidents occurred on Austria's roads last year that were attributable to fatigue (source: BMI). A monthly comparison shows a rapid increase in overwork accidents with personal injury from May 2021, and this development reached its sad peak in midsummer: almost 14 percent of all accidents caused by overwork or microsleep occurred in July last year.
Don't ignore the body's warning signs of tiredness
The ÖAMTC expert advises motorists to observe themselves closely, to be sensitive and, if they notice “harbingers of fatigue”, not to ignore them and not to resort to “placebos”, but to take effective measures: “Anyone who sees the first signs of Ignoring fatigue or trying to banish it with the window open and loud music won't feel any improvement in the long run. Coffee or other stimulating drinks are also of little use in the long run, they mask the actual tiredness and simulate good performance," explains Marion Seidenberger.
Acute warning signs are frequent yawning, sudden chills, a strong need to move, constantly changing sitting position, tenseness, especially in the neck and shoulder area, the development of a fixed gaze and frequent blinking. A low mood can also be a warning signal.
“Anyone who is struggling to stay in lane, performs rough driving for no reason, gets their mind 'drifting' often or feels the road is narrowing should definitely pull off the next exit to take a break or hand the wheel to a fit one Handing over passengers,” warns the ÖAMTC traffic psychologist. Even a power nap of about 20 minutes in connection with a subsequent coffee can help (at least for a short time). The energy boost has a positive effect on performance and mood and improves reaction time. "Nevertheless, this method is not a permanent solution - the short sleep cannot replace a proper regeneration, which only produces a sleep break of several hours," adds Seidenberger.
Tips from the ÖAMTC expert for a good and safe trip on holiday
- Route planning – plan stages with breaks firmly: Don’t calculate the time too tightly on long journeys and plan sufficient breaks from the start. If the holiday destination is more than 800 kilometers away, ideally plan a stopover with an overnight stay.
- Start well rested: If you decide to drive at a time that is not typical for you, make sure you get enough sleep the night before. On longer car journeys, take a 15-minute break at least every two hours and drive no more than eight hours a day. If possible, change drivers at regular intervals.
- Take the right break: Fresh air and exercise during breaks prevent fatigue and get your circulation going again after sitting in the car for a long time.
- Responsibility of passengers: In order to reach your destination safely, passengers are also required. They often notice earlier when drivers are plagued by fatigue. Be sure to state this observation, request a break.
- Optimum nutrition: Drink enough water, tea or diluted fruit juices, as a lack of fluids has a massive impact on your ability to concentrate. Refrain from eating heavy (high-calorie) meals during breaks in driving – drowsiness usually occurs after eating meals that are too heavy, greasy and sumptuous. Instead, make sure you eat a light, vitamin-rich diet - because a lack of vitamins also leads to tiredness and a lack of concentration.
Long holiday trips are often started against the internal clock. “Between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. and around 14 p.m. in the afternoon, people are in a biological low,” explains the ÖAMTC traffic psychologist. "Driving through the night or in the early hours of the morning, especially on monotonous routes, is therefore at the expense of safety in case of doubt."