Spending hours in your car as you navigate slow-moving traffic not only creates feelings of boredom, irritation, and frustration, but can also lead to a phenomenon called traffic fatigue.
Travel fatigue, or road stress, is a recognised condition described as the feeling of burnout, brought on by traveling regularly for days, weeks, or months on end.
The condition can affect anyone who travels frequently enough, although its levels of severity depend on how often and how long a person is driving for, or how long they’re regularly stuck in traffic for. Drivers are also more impacted by it than passengers are, as they’re required to constantly pay attention to the road and stay vigilant. This is specifically known as ‘driver fatigue’ and can be fatal, according to the government
The dangers of traffic fatigue
Head of fully-digital insurer MiWay Blink, Keletso Mpisane says, “Traffic is once again picking up, and although it’s yet to reach pre-pandemic levels, there are a considerable amount of people out on the roads every day. We all recognise that feeling of frustration we get when we’re caught up in heavy traffic, but the sheer tedium of it can lead to a driver focusing on other things, like being on a cell phone, eating, or any other number of driver distractions.
Not concentrating on the road is one of the leading causes of road accidents, and it happens so fast.” According to road safety experts, Arrive Alive, driver fatigue can be caused by anything from emotional stress, illness, or boredom, and contributes to thousands of crashes on our roads each year.
How to beat it
While driver fatigue is a serious hazard to road safety, there are tips drivers can follow to stay alert and energised, advises Mpisane. “Many people don’t realise just how much of a toll driving long distances, or spending a lot of time in traffic, takes on your mind and body. If you drive long distances, take a 15-minute break every two hours or every 160 kms travelled, and stretch your limbs by taking a short walk to refresh yourself.
“Don’t ever overextend yourself and be aware of signs that it’s time to take a break from driving, such as when you start to yawn, your reactions slow down, or you find yourself daydreaming or being distracted by the scenery outside.”
For everyday driving, choose times outside of heavy traffic periods to be on the road. Try to leave home earlier or later for your work commute, she says.” If you can’t avoid traffic, or have to travel long distances due to, for example, living far from your workplace, then stay focused and stay away from boredom by listening to a podcast or self-improvement lessons while you drive.”
For regular travellers
A study done on the effects of travel fatigue among athletes, and published by the American National Library of Medicine, found that regular and prolonged travel can have a real impact on performance and the risk of illness and injury. Drawing on the study for advice for regular road travellers, the following can be observed:
Proper rest and sleep
Proper rest and sleep can offset travel burnout and make your trips more enjoyable and safer. Get enough sleep so that you aren’t prone to becoming drowsy while driving. If you know a long trip is coming up, try sleep banking, which refers to when you extend sleep beyond normal amounts in order to have a surplus of sleep during sleep deprivation periods.
Your diet plays an important role in how alert and energetic you feel daily. Stay hydrated and make sure you aren’t hungry or thirsty during commutes or long-distance driving. Food may be the last thing you think of as you tackle the journey home after work, but being ravenous or thirsty while stuck in a traffic jam will only exacerbate your discomfort levels.
The vitamins you take can boost your body’s ability to buffer traffic stress. Two important ones to consider are folate and vitamin B-12, which both work to help you feel energized and alert. They play a role in red blood cell production, which helps you ensure that your brain can access the oxygen it needs to work optimally. These can be kept at healthy levels by eating legumes and bread as sources of folate, and for meat and dairy for vitamin B-12.
You may not always be able to avoid traffic, but you can control the way you react to it and your experience of it, concludes Mpisane. “By planning your everyday driving routine, you can minimise the time you spend on the road, which will help you to feel more in control of your driving experience, and not become a victim to traffic fatigue,” she says.