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!”