The sad reality of fatigue-related crashes in Waitaki is they often happen at high speed and the outcome can be tragic, says a local road safety expert.
Thirty-one people died on New Zealand roads in fatigue-related crashes in the year to February 2012, including 14 incidents in the Otago region and one fatality.
But fatigue-related crashes are probably under-reported.
Waitaki District Council road safety co-ordinator Elton Crane said fatigue was difficult to determine as the cause of a crash, as it was not always stated as the primary cause - even if it was an influencing factor.
Canterbury University researchers are developing a device that detects drowsiness and could help prevent fatigue-related crashes.
The head-mounted prototype, dubbed a "world first", is the brainchild of electrical engineering PhD student Simon Knopp.
"Lapses can have serious consequences. Truck drivers, pilots, and air traffic controllers, for instance, have to stay alert for long periods of time and risk causing fatalities if they don't."
Mr Knopp's device detected such lapses and alerted a person before he or she had an accident.
Multiple sensors were used to determine the person's state. A miniature camera looked at the eyes, and sensors measured brain activity and head movement.
"Lapses vary from micro-sleeps, where you essentially fall asleep for a moment, to sustained attention lapses.
"Most people have these lapses and often aren't aware they're having them."
AA Road Safety spokesman Mike Noon said crashes caused by fatigue happened regularly in cities and on long journeys and agreed it was difficult to determine if somebody crashed because they he or she was tired, inattentive, or had fallen asleep.
"Why it doesn't get reported as being a real crash issue is Driving tired risky
because when you have a near miss, or when you have a crash, you immediately wake up and you're fully alert, the adrenalin goes off," he said.
"It's quite often not ticked as a fatigue crash, it's picked as not driving to the conditions or driving too fast."
Local volunteer organisation Waitaki Road Safe Inc. sets up fatigue stops on public holidays. Mr Crane said volunteers handed out fatigue literature, lollies, water and offered drivers a chance to stop and enjoy a hot drink and a barbecued sausage. "These fatigue stops are well received by most drivers and they understand and appreciate why they have been stopped," he said.
A fatigued driver was not alert and his or her reflexes were slower, he said.
"When a driver is tired, their senses are slower and they are less able to react accordingly," he said.
"The only way to avoid fatigue is through rest.
(12 months to end of February 2012)565 crashes nationwide
14 crashes in the Otago region
45 injury causing crashes in the region
Four serious injuries
18 minor injuries
- Source: Transport Ministry"If you are tired, you shouldn't be driving.
"It is important to recognise when you feel tired and make sure you take a break."