13 May 2021 | See disclaimer

How much do Australians know about fatigued driving? We’ve gathered all the important statistics on road safety, as well as our own survey data, to determine just how dangerous fatigued driving is.

Quick stats

  • 20% of Australians drive feeling tired at least once a week
  • Fatigue contributes to 20-30% of all deaths and severe injuries on the road
  • 28% of Australians have admitted to experiencing a microsleep episode while driving

We all know that driving while sleepy can be dangerous. But as something that affects us all, how aware are Australians of the risks it can carry? And compared to other dangerous driving behaviours, how much of a threat is fatigued driving?

To help understand the facts on fatigue, we have compiled first-hand research with industry data, to bring you:

What counts as 'fatigued driving'?

‘Fatigue’ simply refers to your tiredness. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re falling asleep at the wheel – ‘fatigued driving’ begins when you’re simply not able to concentrate to your normal ability.

There are plenty of causes for driver fatigue, including:

  • Lack of quality sleep – Even if your sleep schedule is okay, certain medical conditions can prevent you from getting value out of your sleep.
  • A lot of time spent driving – Concentrating on the road for extended periods can significantly sap your mental stamina, causing fatigue.
  • Lack of stimulation – Believe it or not, highway driving (or driving on long stretches of straight road) can increase your rate of fatigue.
  • Your work/social schedule – A drive that might seem easy most days could be dangerous if you’re overworked, or drained from social events.

What is 'microsleeping'?

According to the NSW Government, ‘microsleeping’ is when your body experiences short periods of unconsciousness. While this might seem unusual, it’s actually one of the first stages of falling asleep, and is incredibly common. Most of the time, people won’t know or remember that they briefly fell asleep.

Professor Leon Lack at the Flinders University of South Australia says you can spot microsleeping almost every day:

“Someone could be clinically asleep, in a light sleep, and you could ask them ‘Are you asleep?’ and they’ll answer you ‘No, I’m awake’ but if you ask them to tell you what was just on the radio or TV in the background, they won’t be able to tell you.”

The risks of driving while fatigued

It’s quite well-known that driving while fatigued can be dangerous. In fact, being awake for around 17 hours has the same sort of effect on your driving as a blood alcohol level of 0.05. But this doesn’t necessarily show how it affects your ability to drive.

Your reaction time decreases

When tested in experimental conditions, young male drivers’ reaction times were nearly doubled when they were very tired (Corfitsen, 1995).

Your performance is impaired

The accuracy and quality of your driving decreases significantly when driving under fatigued conditions.

Your speed can vary

As you lose focus, the speed of your car can vary wildly, from significantly under the speed limit to dangerously over.

Your lane control will suffer

With less awareness of your speed and decreased reaction times, it’s easy for your vehicle to slip out of its lane.

Information courtesy of the Queensland Government.

Fatigued driving survey results

In a study conducted by Budget Direct, we found that:

Have you ever experienced a microsleep episode while you were driving?

27.6% of Australians have admitted to experiencing microsleep while driving. Experts also believe that we often aren’t aware of when we microsleep, so this percentage may not truly represent the amount of drivers that have nodded off at the wheel.

How often do you drive when you feel tired?

Younger drivers were far more likely to drive while feeling tired. Over 43% of drivers aged 18 to 24 admit to driving tired at least once a week.

What is the most amount of time that you have driven without taking a break?

(Hours) Total Qld NSW Vic WA SA Tas NT ACT
<4 65.4% 66.2% 64.5% 63.3% 69.0% 69.7% 69.6% 66.7% 55.6%
4+ 34.6% 33.8% 35.5% 36.7% 31.0% 30.3% 30.4% 33.3% 44.4%

Victorians tend to have greater experience driving long distances, with nearly 37% of drivers admitting to having driven for over 4 hours without a break. However, Tasmanians and South Australians had the lowest rates of drivers having broken the 4 hour barrier. This could be due to less necessity for longer drives, or simply better driving practises.

When driving long distances, how often do you think you should take a break?

Contrary to our behaviour, most Australians recognise that driving more than 4 hours is not recommended. Over 92% of drivers suggest that no more than 4 hours should be driven without taking a break. 42% of drivers also feel that 2 hours is the most you should drive without stopping.

How fatigued driving can be prevented

There are two key steps to avoiding fatigued driving – awareness, and action.

How to know if you’re fatigued while driving

Keep an eye out for the common warning signs, as listed by the Queensland Government. Those include:

  • drifting over the lane lines
  • changing your speed without reason
  • yawning
  • feeling drowsy, tired or exhausted
  • blinking more than usual, or feeling your eyes are heavy
  • having patches (from seconds to minutes) that you don’t remember
  • slower reaction times than normal.

What to do if you recognise you're fatigued

The only reasonable way to prevent fatigue is by sleeping. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks typically aren’t enough to restore your concentration to safe levels.

Your smartest solutions include:

  • pulling over somewhere safe, such as a rest area or a ‘driver reviver’ site
  • if possible, share driving with someone who is well-rested.

Most importantly, it’s critical you don’t try and continue driving fatigued. The risks are too high, and there aren’t any sufficient alternatives that can quickly fix your ability to concentrate on the road.

Disclaimer: This survey was conducted by Pure Profile on behalf of Budget Direct in April 2021. The survey was conducted online with a total sample size of 1,010, weighted and representative of all Australian adults (aged 18+). All other data on this website is the latest available from the named sources in this article, and was obtained in April 2021. Auto & General Services Pty Ltd does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the data and accepts no liability whatsoever arising from or connected in any way to the use or reliance upon this data.