Arrive Alive

Enforcement of Driver Alertness

Enforcement of Driver Alertness / Combating Driver Tiredness

Driver tiredness on the long stretches of open road in South Africa is a major contributor to road crashes. It is however not something that is easy to determine and we find self-reporting of these incidents to be unreliable.

Many drivers will rather deny that they fell asleep and say that they had to swerve to avoid an animal or other road users. Gathering factual data on fatigue related crashes is difficult as drowsiness/fatigue may play a role in crashes attributed to other causes such as driving under the influence of alcohol.

We decided to approach our road safety colleagues in the Western Cape with a Q&A session on their efforts to reduce road crashes caused by driver tiredness.

It is often said that awareness campaigns on fatigue are not enough and need to be supported by law enforcement - would you agree?

Yes. The four basic E’s of road safety  - Engineering, Enforcement, Education and Evaluation -  remain a useful way to formulate a comprehensive approach to any aspect of a safer road system.

In the case of fatigue evaluation the scope and nature of the problem must drive the interventions such as-

  • Education of road users about the risks (such as a media campaign)
  • Proactive enforcement through detection and interdiction of fatigued drivers (such as the fatigue management programme outlined below)
  • Engineering a safer road environment that is responsive to the hazards involved (such as putting in rumble strips and run-off barriers).

How is driver alertness “enforced “ by traffic authorities? Is there any legislation specific to driver tiredness by private drivers or professional drivers?

I am not aware of legislation which is specifically about driver fatigue, however, there is legislation that empowers traffic officers to prevent any driver from continuing on their journey if they perceive  the driver to be incapable of driving for whatever reason. Section 3 “I” f of the National Road Traffic Acr states : Section 3 “I” f:

“f) if a person, being the driver or the person apparently in charge of a motor vehicle, appears, by reason of his or her physical or mental condition, howsoever arising, to be incapable for the time being of driving or being in charge of that vehicle, temporarily forbid the person to continue to drive or be in charge of that vehicle and make the arrangements for the safe disposal or placing of the vehicle as in his or her opinion may be necessary or desirable in the circumstances;”

In the road freight sector there has been legislation that was passed for comment some time ago that relates to the regulation of driving hours and the compulsory keeping of log books by drivers.

What platforms do traffic authorities use to alert road users/ drivers to the risk of driver tiredness?

The Western Cape Government uses:

  • Radio advertisements
  • Twitter
  • YouTube videos
  • Pamphlet distribution at key points during high risk periods.

Are there specific stretches of roads in the Western Cape where driver tiredness is more prevalent? Is there any crash data that pinpoints fatigue as a contributing factor to crashes on these roads?

Fatigue-related incidents occur on all roads and at all times of day. As there is limited data available relating to driver fatigue as a causal factor to any specific crash in South Africa research from elsewhere is used to establish trends. We also rely on inferences made in Accident Reports and other evidence that may be available. 

The stretch of the N1 between Beaufort West and Laingsburg, the so called “Road of Death” is in this case an exemplary example. Despite the lack of accurate data the number of single vehicle crashes during the night points to a fair assumption that these crashes occur due to driver fatigue. Law enforcement activities in the area concur with this finding.

What are the typical type of crashes assigned to driver fatigue? 

A vehicle running off the road is commonly linked to driver fatigue, as well as  crashes where over-correction is involved.  In this instance, a driver who nods off awakes to find him or herself in a dangerous situation and attempts to take evasive action. This action typically results in what is referred  to as rollover crashes.  A great  number of head-on collisions can also be assigned  to driver tiredness.


Is driver tiredness more “seasonal”? Do we find driver tiredness more often during Easter and December Holidays?

Yes, particularly so with public transport vehicles and notably minibus taxis in which individual drivers are doing multiple long-haul trips - for quick financial gain.

Our road safety communication calendar especially focuses on fatigue in early January up until schools open.


How do traffic enforcement officials combat driver fatigue on the roads?

Provincial Traffic Services strictly enforce a driver fatigue programme for minibus taxis on key routes during high risk times. All such vehicles must be stopped and the driver checked for signs of fatigue.

Fatigued drivers will be required to rest for a minimum of two hours.

A – ‘sticker’ programme is also employed to identify vehicles which have undergone a voluntary safety inspection test at a pre-approved testing station prior to starting their journey. Here  the major safety components of such vehicle are checked by suitably qualified examiners.    If the vehicle passes the test, a sticker is applied to the windscreen. This is not a full road worthy test. 

In other instances, this check is performed on a smaller scale - when a vehicle is pulled over to the roadside for a routine safety check.  Certain detail relating to date, place, time, number of passengers and driver particulars are colected whch can then immediately be verified before the vehicle continue on  its journey.  

This is specifically focussed on public transport vehicles moving between the Western and Easter Cape during peak seasons. The sticker gives the roadside officer  the sign that the vehicle embarked on its journey in a safe condition.  I addition it would  give an indication of  the time taken to get to the point it was intercepted, as well as the  details of the driver and the number of passengers it was carrying. This serves as an incentive to promote  a better relationship between the operators of the transport service and the traffic authorities. 



How do traffic officials identify a tired driver? What indicators are they looking at?

Aspects to consider include:

  • Red eyes
  • Reaction times
  • Slowed speech.  

Has technology been considered as an effective method to identify a fatigued driver?

Yes. At various times, different devices have been mooted that, for example, measure pupil contraction on exposure to light or that can measure muscle reaction. I am not aware of any product on the market as of yet, although “fatigue-alysers” are expected to be available at some point in the future. 

The technology referred to is mainly "in vehicle based" which analyses the eyes and facial characteristics inclusive of yawning, but also monitors vehicle movement such as erratic steering and lane departures.

See the link below. This is clearly something that most vehicle manufactures are looking at.

How important is self-regulation on the part of fleet and public transport operators in the battle to fight driver fatigue?

It is critical. These are probably the drivers who are at the highest risk, due to the amount of time spent driving, and the long routes involved.

[A word of appreciation to Hector Elliot and David Frost from Safely Home in the Western Cape for the assistance rendered with this Q&A]

We would like to advise visitors to also view these other pages:

Driver tiredness is one of the most significant threats to safety of all road users. This is often seen as one of the "driver distractions" taking the eyes and concentration of the driver away from driving. Driver tiredness often leads to head-on collisions and rollover crashes.

On the Arrive Alive website this is discussed on several pages with reference to Driver tiredness, Driver Fatigue and Drowsiness.

Driver Tiredness

Facts about Drowsy Driving Internationally

Fatigue and Road Safety [Fleetwatch info for fleet operators]

European Report on Fatigue

Driver Fatigue -Who is most ar Risk?

Actions for the Drowsy Driver

Energy Drinks, Driver Alertness and Safe Driving

Endurance Sports, Driver Fatigue and Road Safety


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