Grey nomad recalls the day he fell asleep at the wheel!

Published: March 12, 2021
Grey nomad fell asleep at the wheel.

Grey nomads are constantly being urged to rest, revive and survive as they travel … but nothing makes the ‘don’t drive while tired’ lesson sink in quite as effectively as a huge scare!

Just ask Zol Straub. The veteran traveller is 72 now, but a terrifying incident 20 years ago when he fell asleep at the wheel still haunts him … and shapes the way he drives.

He’s now urging all grey nomads not make the mistake of thinking ‘it can’t happen to me’.

Zol says he had a slight cold but wasn’t feeling drowsy as he drove his Nissan Urvan campervan between Brisbane and the Gold Coast one clear afternoon back in 2001.

“I moved over to the right lane on the freeway near Yatala to overtake some slower cars and I was driving at 110 km/h,” he said. “The next thing I remember was my head was facing down and I was looking at my crotch as I was being woken by a series of rapid bumps and, when I looked up, I was inches away from the right-hand Armco barriers flashing past me at 110 km/h!”

Zol consider himself extremely lucky that the warning rumble bars were on the shoulder just where he had drifted off the road. He says, had they not been there, he wouldn’t have woken until he hit the safety barriers.

“I’m fortunate that I don’t panic and realised instantly what had happened and steered the car back onto the lane and continued home … wide awake!” he said. “I’m not sure how long I was asleep for, perhaps a few seconds, but it was frightening how quickly I fell asleep … it was as though someone had just flicked a switch off, there was absolutely no warning.”

These days, Zol tows a 14’ Jayco Starcraft and follows some pretty strict rules to make sure there is never a repeat performance.

“I rarely drive more than 200-300 kilometres per day and often take all day to do it,” he said. “It’s not that I’m not capable of doing more, but I just don’t have a need to cover long distances quickly, so I enjoy my breaks and stay fresh and alert.”

And Zol says he is quick to act if he has even the slightest indication that he feels ‘sleepy’ while driving.

“I recognise its potential ramifications and I always pull over at the very first opportunity, irrespective of whether it’s a pullover, side road or a rest stop, and refresh myself by taking a brisk walk to elevate my pulse rate,” he said. “I do not push on to the next stop that may have better facilities because I now know how sudden the onset of sleep can be … it is really, really scary!”

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1 year ago

I know the feeling, it happened to me when I was not towing, only 600 metres from home, was feeling tired and must have completely relaxed and drifted off on the sweeping bend near my house and plowed through the letterbox and shrubs on a front yard before coming to a stop.
Luckily there are no fences in my 1 acre estate so only minimum damage to the property ($1200 for letter ox and garden repair),my car had no damage except some scratches on the front and a replacement bumper.
Yes, it happens very easily, however, the warning signs are very evident beforehand, so the lesson is, pull over and restorget out and walk around for a few minutes.

1 year ago

I’ve been forced into driving when tired more than once thanks to ghost campers taking up camping spots in both the original and alternate chosen destination.
I try to arrive before 4pm so I’ve got time to change plans, but that hasn’t always worked out well. I’d like to see those Selfish ghost campers forfeit their goods, $ go towards maintaining and upgrading facilities

1 year ago

Fatigue Management is an issue irrespective of age and in my opinion should be a subject of required learning with a 100% pass mark for Drivers Licence exams. Whilst there are many that affect fatigue the key factors are recognition of the effects or better described symptoms of fatigue and taking appropriate response to those warning signs.

However it is not always the fault of the driver I have noted the inadequate numbers of rest areas for both heavy transport and recreational drivers, this inadequacy needs to be addressed by councils, state and federal authorities to the extent of extending the time interval that people are allowed to remain for a rest period.

I for one would be more than happy to make a gold coin donation at any stop to support the maintenance of the rest areas.


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