You can drift in and out of sleep without knowing it. Sleep experts call this a micro-sleep and it can last between three and five seconds. These naps can be fatal and are the main cause of fatigue-related crashes where the driver runs off the road. These crashes are usually the most serious because the driver doesn't brake before hitting a tree, another car or the gravel.

27 fatal crashes in 2016 were fatigue related.

people received critical injuries in fatigue related crashes in 2016.


of sleep per night is recommended to avoid fatigued driving.

The effects of fatigue

As a driver, fatigue can cause you several problems including:

  • slowing your reactions and decisions
  • decreasing your tolerance for other road users
  • poor lane tracking and maintenance of speed
  • decreasing your alertness

Danger signs

Early danger signs of fatigue include:

  • wandering thoughts
  • missing a gear, road sign or exit
  • slowing unintentionally
  • braking too late

If you are driving, you should get off the road if you:

  • are yawning
  • are blinking more than usual
  • are having trouble keeping your head up
  • notice your eyes closing for a moment or going out of focus
  • forget driving the last few kilometres

After driving for long periods, you should:

  • swap drivers where possible
  • stop for a break or coffee
  • stop to have a short sleep

If you have a new vehicle, the CSIRO recommends that you make sure that there is plenty of outside air entering the vehicle while you drive for at least 6 months after purchasing the vehicle. The air toxic emissions from new motor vehicle interiors can cause fatigue.

Remember to get plenty of rest the night before a long trip. You should not be driving if you feel tired.

Risk factors

Fatigue-related road deaths and serious injuries are not restricted to rural and regional roads, nor are they restricted to people driving long distances. You’re most at risk between 1am and 6am when your alertness is low. Australian national data indicates a significant increase in fatigue-related crashes in holiday periods such as Christmas and Easter.

Factors increasing your risk of being involved in a sleep-related vehicle crash include:

  • working a night shift
  • averaging less than 6 hours sleep per night
  • poor overall quality of sleep
  • excessive daytime sleepiness
  • frequent night time driving (especially between midnight and 6am)
  • use of medications that cause drowsiness
  • driving after being awake for more than 15 hours
  • driving for extended periods of time
  • air toxic emissions from new motor vehicle interiors