Fatigue is a major contributor to crashes on the Rangitikei Highway, a Wanganui road safety co-ordinator says.
"With fatigue, it tends to be the crashes happen on state highways. It's all a matter of getting people to take the appropriate rests, have the appropriate sleep before they're heading off, [and] share the driving if they're able to," Horizons Regional Council road safe co-ordinator Glenda Leitao said.
Canterbury University researchers are developing a device that detects drowsiness and could help prevent crashes.
Thirty-one people died on New Zealand roads in fatigue-related crashes in the year to February.
"We try to educate - in different forms - people on how to be sure they're not going to have a problem when they're travelling long distances," Ms Leitao said. "Fatigue stops" were being planned for long weekends in Manawatu in collaboration with police, where drivers would be briefed on the dangers of fatigue during routine registration and warrant of fitness checks. The road safety team was also targeting schools and long-distance drivers
"At the moment there's about 500 trucks going along from Bulls through to Taupo every day.
"There's a lot of heavy traffic on the road, they travel long miles so we just try to encourage them to make sure they're doing all the stops that they're supposed to be doing."
An Australian study of short-haul day-shift drivers has found that 45 per cent of drivers reported "nodding off" while driving in the previous 12 months.
A fatigue-detecting head-mounted prototype, dubbed a "world first", is being developed by electrical engineering PhD student Simon Knopp.
"Lapses can have serious consequences. Truck drivers, pilots, and air traffic controllers, for instance, have to stay alert for long periods of time and risk causing fatalities if they don't."
The device detects such lapses and alerts a person before he or she has an accident.
Multiple sensors are used to determine the person's state. A miniature camera looks at the eyes, and sensors measure brain activity and head movement.
"[Lapses] vary from micro-sleeps, where you essentially fall asleep for a moment, to sustained-attention lapses.
"Most people have these lapses and often aren't aware they're having them."
AA Road Safety spokesman Mike Noon said crashes caused by fatigue happened regularly, in cities and on long journeys.
But it was difficult to determine whether drivers crashed because they were tired, inattentive, or had fallen asleep.
"Why it doesn't get reported as being a real crash issue is because when you have a near miss, or when you have a crash, you immediately wake up and you're fully alert, the adrenalin goes off.
"It's quite often not ticked as a fatigue crash - it's picked as a 'not driving to the conditions' or "driving too fast'." APNZ
CRASHES CAUSED BY FATIGUE
(12 months to February, 2012)
565 crashes nationwide
50 crashes in the Manawatu-Wanganui region
47 injury-causing crashes in the region
16 serious injuries
49 minor injuries
Source: Transport Ministry