Fatigue - The Hidden Killer

17 Nov 2012

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Car on the Express road

Safe driving with Jonas Agwu 

Recently, I stumbled on a very interesting material on the above subject put together by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
Although I had done something on fatigue before, I am, however, compelled to write this piece again because of my personal experience when I travelled to Dutse, the Jigawa State Capital for a meeting. The journey from Kaduna to Dutse was undertaken on Tuesday since the meeting was slated for Wednesday. For almost five hours I drove under a very clement weather because of the heavy rain along the Kaduna –Kano road. I arrived Dutse safely at about 6pm, haven stopped over in Kano where I spent over three hours rectifying a fault in my car. When we rounded up the meeting at about 2pm on Wednesday, I concluded that since Dutse to Kaduna was a five hours drive, there was no need for me to pass the second night in Dutse.

Barely one hour after the meeting we took off with my colleagues. Initially, The drive was smooth until about few minutes to Wudil along the Kano-Maiduguri road when perhaps as a fallout of the stress from the meeting presided over by me, the effect of age and air-condition in the car, I dozed off intermittently without the knowledge of my friends and colleagues who like most occupants on a trip tend to have this misconceived notion that because the man on the wheel is a safety expect or well known to them, he can never falter in his driving. That you are reading this column today simply means that God took control of the trip and nothing happened. No crash. No near misses even though like a good number of drivers, I pride myself as a little cautious road user. So when I obviously observed my fatigued state,
I reduced my speed to suit the road which is accident prone, my sleepy eyes and also kept to the slow lane immediately to avoid any possible mishap. In order to take a breather, I wisely pulled over at a petrol station where I knew was safer to refuel and stretch my legs. That five minutes break to refuel and cool off was all the magic needed for the rest of the trip.

How many other motorists do you think are lucky under the same circumstances? Very few I must tell you. Although data on road crash to justify the danger of fatigue in Nigeria is scarce, globally fatigue remains a hidden killer. Many have died in the name of tyre burst, speed, dangerous overtaking when in actual fact the real factor may have been fatigued that was ignored as nothing serious. What really is fatigue? According to the Australian material a   combination of any of the following warning signs means the driver is becoming fatigued:yawning,eyes feeling sore or heavy, vision starting to blur, daydreaming- thinking of everything else but not your driving, not concerntrating,becoming impatient, reactions seem slow, speed creeps up and down, making poor gear changes, wandering over the centre line or onto the road edge, feeling stiff or cramped, you start’ seeing things’, you feel hungry or thirsty, you have difficulties keeping your head up or eyes open, you hear a droning or humming in your ears, you don’t notice a vehicle until it overtakes you.

When you notice these signs like I did on my way from Dutse, please don’t ignore it .Don’t plead the blood either. Dont even border binding the’ innocent devil’.Hey,not even time to blast in unknown tongues. It is not the devil. Not your in-law. Not your angry landlord. Not even your jealous colleague in the office. But you. Yes you. Once fatigue sets in, there is little you can do about it except stop as soon as possible and take a break.
Take a break, sooner rather than later. Driver Fatigue can be just as deadly as drink driving or excessive speeding. The problem of fatigue is that it slowly develops and drivers often don’t realise they are too tired to drive safely.Ironically; there is always a warning sign. Mine began with yawning.

Fatigue, according to research is caused by lack of sleep or broken sleep. Alcohol and some medications can also cause sleepiness. Although the need for sleep varies among individuals, sleeping eight hours in a 24-hour period is common. The effect of sleep loss builds up. Regularly losing 1 to 2 hours sleep a night can create a “sleep debt” and lead to chronic sleepiness over time. Just being in bed doesn’t mean a person has had enough sleep. Disrupted sleep has the same effect as lack of sleep. Illness, noise; activity can interrupt and reduce the amount and quality of sleep.

Like every other driving habits or problems, fatigue has its fair share of myths. For those freaky about night trips or night journeys, the notion is that it is safer to make the trip at night in order to avoid day- time traffic build up. The fact, however is that your body has a normal 24hour rhythm pattern built into it. If you are driving when you would normally be sleeping you will be fighting yourself to stay awake. The chances of falling asleep at the wheel after your normal bedtime, especially in the early hours of the morning, are very high. There is also the notion that it is a good idea to start the trip after work. 

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