For many South Africans, the festive season means a lot of time on the road – driving long distances to holiday destinations, or visiting family and friends in other parts of the country.
Experts from Driving Skills for Life (DSFL), a comprehensive programme created by Ford Motor Company to promote a safe and efficient driving culture, warns that all this time spent behind the wheel, especially at night when you would normally be sleeping, increases the risk of drowsy driving. Drowsiness leads to impaired focus and reaction time, similar to the effects of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
DSFL Training Director Derek Kirkby says that one of the most important aspects to safe driving is anticipating the situation on the road. But this is hard to do if you are drowsy, especially if you are driving at night when visibility is poor.
“You should be well-rested before setting off on a long trip,” says Kirby. “Don’t drive if you are sleep deprived, or on medication that may cause drowsiness. Avoid using quick fixes like energy drinks, turning up the radio, or opening a window, to try and stay awake. They don’t work. Rather make regular stops to stretch, walk around a bit, and get some fresh air.”
Signs of drowsiness
Monitor yourself, or the driver of the vehicle you’re travelling in, for the following signs of drowsiness:
- Difficulty focussing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
- Trouble remembering the last few kilometres driven, or missing exits or traffic signs
- Trouble keeping your head up
- Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
- Feeling restless, in a rush, and irritable
Tips for night driving
When getting our holidays started, many of us like to hit the road just before sunrise, or prefer driving through the night when there is less traffic. But low light conditions affect depth perception, colour perception, contrast sensitivity, and peripheral vision. So it’s best to limit the amount of time you spend on the road between dusk and dawn.
If you can’t avoid driving during these times, Arrive Alive recommends you take the following precautions.
- Make sure your headlights, tail lights, brake lights, and indicators are working.
- Adjust the aim of your headlights if necessary, to best illuminate the road.
- If you are towing, make sure your brake lights and indicators are connected properly and working.
- Keep your headlights on at all times, to make you more visible to other motorists.
- Make sure you can see the world around you. Keep your front and rear windscreens clean, and check that the defogger is working.
- As we age, it is natural to experience changes in our eyesight, which can affect our vision in low light situations. A 50-year-old driver may need twice as much light as a 30-year-old to see comfortably. Be conscious of any changes and visit your optician if necessary.
- Your eyes naturally adjust to the darkness, but it can take up to 30 minutes, so reduce your driving speed during this transitional time.
- Avoid keeping your gaze focussed at a single distance, as this can cause eye fatigue, and lead to drowsiness.
- Maintain a safe following distance from the vehicle ahead of you. Your reaction time may be slower at night, because you are seeing less, but have to respond in the same time you would in daytime.
- Make sure you self-regulate your behaviour on the road. Be respectful of other motorists, and switch your headlights from high beam to low beam (brights to normal) well before an approaching vehicle is within range, or when driving behind another vehicle. If the approaching vehicle doesn’t do you the same courtesy, don’t retaliate by keeping your high beam on; two blinded drivers instead of one merely doubles the danger.
- Be mindful of all other road users, and especially alert and cautious when driving in areas of pedestrian activity. Pedestrians, including joggers, are particularly vulnerable on dimly or unlit roads, especially if wearing dark clothes. Of the 14,071 road fatalities in SA recorded in 2016, pedestrians accounted for a shocking 38 per cent, followed by passengers and drivers, which accounted for around 33 and 26 per cent respectively, with cyclists making up the remaining three per cent.
- Most crashes into cyclists occur on weekday afternoons, and the risk of cycle accidents is four to five times greater in darkness than in daylight.