Chapter 14 - Commuting

Learning Outcomes

After reading through this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Discuss why commuting can be a hazard for workers.
  • Name strategies that may help reduce the risks associated with commuting.

Commuting as a hazard

So far, we have focused on fatigue as a workplace hazard. Driving to and from work when fatigued should also be considered a hazard. This is increasing in importance as commute times continue to grow significantly longer.

You will always be at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel if you are driving while tired or sleep deprived. There are certain high-risk times when you are more at risk of having a fatigue-related accident. These include:

  • Long drives without a break
  • Driving home after a long shift
  • Driving between midnight and 6 a.m. (biological low point)
  • Driving in heavy traffic
  • Long stretches of road with low traffic

In many cities, it is not uncommon for people to commute an hour or even two hours to and from work. This situation arises mostly where jobs are scarce, property prices have driven people further out, or where traffic density is high.

While it is difficult to eliminate all the risks associated with commuting, it is possible to take some measures to improve road safety. While the following suggestions may not be relevant to everyone, you should be able to come up with a road safety strategy that suits you.

What can be done?

  • Take public transport if it is available. This option is not only safer but is less expensive than running your own vehicle. For many people, the downside is losing the convenience of having your own car, and taking longer to get to and from work. Others argue that the extra travelling time can be well spent reading, relaxing, or just watching the world go by.
  • Move closer to work. On first consideration, this may not be a realistic option but some who have done it report considerable benefits. This option is most attractive if you are renting or would be happy to sell your home to move closer to work. In some cases, such a move might be inexpensive and could save you five to ten hours a week of commuting.
  • If you live close enough to work, consider riding, running, or walking to work. This is a particularly good strategy if you’ve been trying to get some regular exercise into your week. Another advantage is that, apart from the cost of shoes or a bike, it’s free!
  • Car pool. This may be a viable option if you live close to people who work with you. Car pooling allows costs to be shared and gives the driver company during the ride, reducing the monotony of the drive.
  • Don’t be in a hurry. Many accidents occur when people rush, so plan for delays and don’t get stressed out. Taking risks is unnecessary. Enjoy the conversation, music, or scenery during your journey.
  • Never use a cell phone while driving. Recent research clearly shows that dividing your attention between driving and talking on a cell phone is dangerous. This is true even of cell phones with a hands-free attachment. If a call is that important, find a safe place to pull over until the call is finished.
  • Take a nap. As detailed in the sleep and napping chapter, naps can be a powerful and efficient strategy for gaining temporary improvements in alertness and performance. Naps are rarely convenient unless they are preplanned, but you should get off the road if you observe any warning signs of fatigue. Keep your nap short, say 10 to 15 minutes, and be sure to give yourself at least 10 to 15 minutes to shake off your sleep inertia before you drive off. This wake-up time can generally be shortened if the nap is during the day.
  • Have some caffeine. As covered in the caffeine chapter, caffeine can provide a boost to alertness, making commuting safer. Caffeine can reduce your ability to get to sleep once you get home, but it is more important to make it there safely.


Why is commuting a fatigue risk?


Are there any changes you could make to the way you commute that would reduce fatigue-related risks?



Case study

Woman drivingMarie was 38 years of age, married with one child at home. She was a pilot for almost 12 years, working in an emergency rescue operation. She had been called in to fly a hospital transfer for a critical patient. While the transfer was expected, the exact timing was unknown. Marie had experience with hospital transfers at all times of the day and night, so she was not worried about the timing.

She had been awake all day and had just gone to bed when the hospital rang at 11 p.m., asking her to pick up the patient. She arrived at the hospital after midnight and delivered the patient to the next hospital after 2:00 a.m. By the time she returned and completed her paperwork, it was past 5:00 a.m. Marie was tired but told her work colleagues that she wanted to drive home because she slept better in her own bed. She never made it.

There was no evidence of corrective action being taken by Marie before she hit the stationary semi-trailer. This suggests that Marie was either asleep or otherwise unable to react before impact. The investigation of the accident concluded that she had fallen asleep at the wheel on her way home.


checkmark Knowledge Check

  • Propose three strategies Marie could have used to get home safely that morning.
  • Name two reasons why many workers spend more time in their cars travelling to and from work?.
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