Let’s talk about driver fatigue

Driver Fatigue

Believe it or not, driving fatigued is one of the biggest contributors to  the road toll in New South Wales. And, at this time of year – the long summer school holidays – it is most one of the most prevalent problems on the road, as people drive to visit family and friends to celebrate the Christmas season.

Statistics suggest that driver fatigue is responsible for around 20 percent of road fatalities and that drivers are at four times the risk of having a fatal accident while driving in what’s considered to be their body clock’s ‘normal’ sleep hours – between 10pm and dawn.

Furthermore, according to Transport NSW’s Centre for Road Safety:

  • Fatigue-related crashes are almost three times as likely to be fatal than crashes not involving fatigue – drivers who are asleep can’t brake.
  • Each year, about 67 people die and about 645 are seriously injured in fatigue-related crashes in NSW.

Is driver fatigue a criminal offence in New South Wales?

Surprisingly, given the seriousness of drivers’ fatigue, currently there are no laws regulating fatigued driving, unless you’re in charge of a ‘heavy vehicle, defined under the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) as a vehicle that has a gross vehicle mass (GVM) or aggregate trailer mass (ATM) of more than 4.5 tonnes.

So, as a driver of a normal passenger vehicle, the responsibility lies firmly with the driver to avoid fatigue, by taking regular breaks – the recommendation is every two hours. It could save your life and the life of your passengers. However, fatigue doesn’t just affect drivers doing long road trips, it can occur even on relatively short trips, particularly if you’re sleep-deprived from too much celebrating.

Serious driving offences

It’s important to note that if you are responsible for an accident while driving fatigued, you can be charged with other serious driving offences, such as, for example, negligent driving, which is broadly defined as driving without the due care and attention reasonably expected of a driver. It puts you, other drivers and the public at risk, and can result in serious injury or death.

Negligent driving comes with a $425 fine and 3 demerit points in NSW.

There are more serious Negligent driving offences, including:

  • Negligent driving occasioning grievous bodily harm. If this is a first offence, the penalties include a maximum court-imposed fine of $2200, a maximum prison term of 9 months and a minimum driver’s licence disqualification of 12 months.
  • Negligent driving occasioning death If this is a first offence, the penalty includes a fine of $3300, a maximum prison term of 18 months, and a minimum license disqualification period of 12 months. If it is a subsequent offence, the penalties are significantly higher.

Double demerit points over Christmas

Police will be out in force over the summer break. Even though you’re on holiday, the law is not. Remember too, that in peak holiday periods, double demerits apply during peak periods.

Make sure you know the rules about drink and drug driving, speeding, mobile phone use, car seats and restraints for children, seatbelts, and also what it means to be driving a ‘road worthy vehicle’ – you can be fined for worn tyres and broken lights.

Stay safe, and enjoy the holidays. If you’re travelling to this beautiful part of the world, such as Lennox Head or Evans Head, be aware of our signiifcant police presence during the festival season.



This post is informative only. It is not legal advice. If you have a specific legal matter you’d like to discuss, please contact us.

We service NSW, but specifically the area from Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay, Ballina, Mullumbimby and Tweed Heads regions on the Far North NSW Coast.

To learn more about The Local Court Lawyers, see our What We Do page.

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