FATIGUE plays an insidious role in North East crashes, killing 16 people and seriously injuring almost 200 in the past year, police say.
The region’s highway patrol acting Sen-Sgt Cameron Roberts said the deadly consequences of fatigue were often overlooked when assessing crashes.
“Our fatal collisions don’t often involve great speed or alcohol,” he said. “It’s inattention and fatigue that kills.”
Statistics for the shires of Wodonga, Indigo, Towong, Alpine, Moira and Wangaratta released last month showed there were 195 serious-injury crashes in the year to July, compared with 229 a year earlier.
The death toll of 16 was up from 13 a year earlier.
“That’s 195 people who have suffered brain injuries, internal injuries, paraplegia and quadriplegia,” Sen-Sgt Roberts said.
“Those people have to learn to walk again, to feed themselves again.
“It isn’t reflected in the road toll that lives are changed forever.”
Sen-Sgt Roberts said the concerning trend of fatigue causing most crashes involved behaviour that was easily avoidable.
“Inattention and mobile phones, we can’t stress hard enough, but another thing people get blase about it is how tired they feel,” he said.
“They don’t understand the overall risk, how easily it can effect them.”
There was clear evidence of people driving tired on the Hume Freeway every day, with cars travelling at inconsistent speeds and “lane wandering” as people zoned-out.
“How many drivers can’t remember the past five kilometres because they’ve zoned out?” Sen-Sgt Roberts said.
“These drivers are risking lives. The wide lanes of the Hume can only forgive so many times.
He said drivers sometimes got away with mistakes on the Hume “but those narrow, 100km/h roads, like the Murray Valley Highway, don’t forgive those mistakes”.
Investigators who carefully studied the final moments of those killed on the road were increasingly seeing the tell-tale signs of fatigue.
Signs like those Sen-Sgt Roberts saw in a crash on the Murray Valley Highway near Rutherglen in 2009 when a man driving friends around for most of the day fell asleep on a bend.
“When the road straightened, he’s continued in the arch of the bend,” Sen-Sgt Roberts said.
Investigators found perfect rolling tyre impressions — until the driver woke up.
“That knee-jerk reaction is make or break,” he said.
Those tyre impressions become ugly guages in the dirt that change direction, evidence of the wheels suddenly turning.
That reaction slammed the car into a tree on the driver’s side door.
Sen-Sgt Roberts said such consequences could be easily avoided by not driving when your were tired, by taking to nap by the side of the road or by changing drivers.
“Don’t fight it. Pull over. Don’t think you’ll push through it,” Sen-Sgt Roberts said.