Driver felt ‘body conk out’ on motorway
Even though it had been a long day at work, Adele Thorsby felt as though she was fine to drive the hour or so home from the Gold Coast to Brisbane.
But just as the journey was nearing its end, the emergency dispatcher suddenly felt her body start to "conk out" in a terrifying experience that still haunts her today and could've been fatal.
"I felt really awake and I thought I'd be fine," Ms Thorsby told news.com.au of that harrowing day two years ago.
"But it was on the motorway in peak traffic coming into the city that I felt like every single muscle in my body relaxed all at one time.
"It was a really obscure feeling, and I had never felt anything like it. But it was literally my body conking out. And then I clicked and realised I was falling asleep - sort of conscious and unconscious about it."
Knowing the danger she was in, Ms Thorsby decided to pull over. Before she could do so, she felt herself slip into a micro sleep another three times in quick succession.
Thankfully, the experience didn't end in tragedy, with Ms Thorsby able to pull over safely and phone her partner to come and pick her up.
But each year, driver fatigue ranks as one of three main factors in road fatalities and serious injuries.
With the Christmas period around the corner, Ms Thorsby is sharing her experience in the hope that others follow the advice to take a 15-minute break every two hours.
Driver fatigue can be just as dangerous as drink-driving but is far less regulated. Being awake for 17 hours and getting behind the wheel has the same effect as driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05.
Despite that, a new survey by Smith's Lawyers has found only half of long-distance motorists stop after three or more hours for a break.
The survey found some groups are more likely to put themselves in riskier situations, with young drivers aged 18 to 24 some 30 per cent more likely than older motorists to drive without a break.
All-up, 64 per cent of drivers aged 18 to 24 don't take breaks on longer trips.
"The numbers are a little concerning," Greg Smith, Principal at Smith's Lawyers, said.
Fatigue-related car accidents can happen at any given moment, whether it's a long or short distance trip, day or night, and Australians are ignoring the call to take a break every two hours for long distance trips.
"With the holiday rush just around the corner, we'd urge drivers to plan some extra time to take breaks along the way and stay safe, especially those who typically do long stints at the wheel," Mr Smith said.
Two years on from her near miss, Ms Thorsby still feels anxious driving on the motorway.
"I know from being in my role how sinister it could have been, not so much for myself but for everyone around me," she said.
"For that purpose, I wish I would have stayed at my friend's place instead."
Ms Thorsby said if drivers were at the point of needing to blast the radio or cold air onto their face to stay awake, they probably shouldn't be driving.
"Regular stops need to be taken. You need to be more aware of it, and I think people just assume we're fine when actually we're not."
Bernard Carlon, executive director of the Centre for Road Safety, said crashes due to tiredness were twice as likely to be fatal than other crashes.
Early warning signs include yawning, finding it difficult to concentrate, and tired and sore eyes.
Taking a nap before getting in the car could help battle fatigue too, Mr Carlon said.
But fatigue can happen at any given time, on long or short trips, and during the day or at night.
"You need to consider how tired you are any time you drive, day or night, regardless of the length of your trip," Mr Carlon said.