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Fatigue and familiarity push up rural crash risks

Child & Youth Mortality Review Committee
27 March 2014

Fatigue is one of the most significant risk factors in rural road deaths according to a recent analysis of crashes involving dairy farmers and their employees.

The study also shows that the road outside the farm gate is likely to be an accident hot spot for farming families.

Waikato District Health Board (DHB) Medical Officer of Health Dr Felicity Dumble says the study makes it timely to ask farming families to take special care, especially as winter sets in and daylight saving comes to an end.

“There will be some new young people coming to work on farms over the next few weeks and we want to remind them of the dangers which exist out on the country roads which they may not have experienced before.

“For example, the road outside a farm gate is probably one of the most familiar stretches of tarseal or gravel for most farmers and it is also the strip where they are more likely to have a car accident than any other road in the country.”

That familiarity can be fatal, according to the study done by the Child and Youth Mortality Review Groups around New Zealand. These include clinicians, other health sector personnel, Māori health providers, NZ Police, Ministry of Education, social and community agencies and community service providers.

Dr Dumble says fatigue is something which farmers and farm workers will be familiar with, especially during busy periods such as calving and the peak.

“Driving alone makes a driver even more vulnerable to fatigue as no one else notices they are dozing.”

The study also shows that while rural roads may have a 100kph speed limit, they are often not designed for high speeds. Even in good weather conditions, there is very little tolerance for error at 100 kph and any speed over the limit is dangerous.

Dr Dumble says not wearing a seatbelt also raises the risk of a fatality in a crash.

“Driving round the farm without a seatbelt can cause the “putting on the seatbelt reflex” to be lost. But it is absolutely essential though to have the seatbelt buckled up when driving on the road. We encourage farmers, their family and their employees to remind themselves and one another to buckle up. It could save a life.”

Alcohol is also a risk factor and takes time to be processed. One standard drink takes approximately one hour to be metabolised by the liver and removed from the blood stream.

“Having a sleep does not clear the slate in terms of blood alcohol content.”

Dr Dumble says every death on the road is one too many and being alert to dangers like fatigue, familiarity with local conditions, speed and alcohol can make a big difference in keeping the rural road toll down.

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