Fatigue: The Silent Killer on Our Roads

By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim

Charges of negligent driving occasioning death have been brought against a Sydney Uber driver, reminding motorists to check ourselves for fatigue while on the road this summer.

The driver will face court in January after allegedly accelerating while a passenger was leaving his car, sending the man into the path of a bus that hit and killed him on the corner of Elizabeth and Bathurst streets in the Sydney CBD.

Police allege the driver had been working for 21 hours without a substantial break, which may have contributed to his inattention.

Uber introduced new rules last month, prohibiting drivers from working dangerously long hours. The Uber driver app now includes a feature that automatically logs drivers off for a six-hour break once they have been online and driving for 12 hours.

But police say the changes come too late for the deceased man.

Penalties for negligent driving occasioning death

If found guilty and it is the driver’s first major traffic offence within the previous 5 years, he faces a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison, a 3-year disqualification period from driving and a $3,300 fine.

If it is his second or more major traffic offence within 5 years, the maximum penalty is 2 years in prison, 5 years’ disqualification and a $5,500 fine.

The silent killer on our roads

Fatigue is said to be the third biggest killer on our roads behind speed and alcohol, contributing to around 20 percent of road fatalities annually.

Studies suggest that being awake for around 17 hours produces a similar effect on your mind and body’s performance to having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05.

Driver fatigue

Research suggests that drivers are four times as likely to have a fatal crash while driving in what’s considered their body clock’s ‘normal’ sleep hours – between 10pm and dawn.

Risks are increased while driving alone, on rural roads, trying to ‘beat the traffic’ and driving longer distances than normal.

Modern cars – with automatic gear shifts, cruise control and air-conditioning – can make driving way too comfortable, contributing to sleepiness and the onset of ‘micro sleeps’.

One of the most at-risk groups is truck drivers, and a range of penalties apply to heavy vehicle drivers who drive longer than their supposed to.

Keeping safe

The best way to stay alert is to take regular breaks. There are ‘driver reviver’ stops everywhere along major Australian highways, encouraging drivers to stop, get out of the car and move around to keep their blood circulating.

Be aware of early warning signs, such as inadvertently drifting over lanes, unintended changes in speed, drowsiness, heavy eyelids and loss of concentration.

Penalties for negligent driving not causing harm

Negligent driving (not occasioning death or grievous bodily harm) comes with a $425 fine and 3 demerit points in NSW.

Police can even choose to send drivers to court for the offence, where penalties can be even harsher and include a criminal record and a potential 12 months off the road.

So stay safe over the holiday period, for your own sake as well as other road users.

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