During the Holy month of Ramadan, which began on in New Zealand on June 19, many followers of Islam will observe a daily fast.
In our Southern Hemisphere winter, the fasting times from dawn to dusk are not as extreme as somewhere like Iceland where the sun sets at midnight and rises again at 3 am, but it is long enough to put a strain on the body’s reserves.
Pregnant women and those with certain illnesses are not expected to fast, but for others who will need to drive, the fast brings with it dangers while operating any kind of vehicle.
The extended period without intake of food or liquid causes dehydration. The early stages of dehydration cause difficulty with mental tasks. As fluid loss continues, headaches, fatigue and difficulty concentrating become worse.
Increased risks are caused by those rushing home at sunset for Iftar to break the fast.
At this time, blood sugar levels are at their lowest.
In 2012, the Dubai Police a large increase in accidents during Ramadan, many of which were put down to an increase in speeding and impatience among drivers.
Drivers who are already cognitively impaired place themselves at greater risk by driving more aggressively.
People used to having coffee during the day may get withdrawal symptoms for the first few days leading to irritability and shakiness or dizziness.
The dangers can be mitigated by taking public transport or walking where possible, but if you have to drive, the recommendations are to settle into a routine so that your body gets used to the change as quickly as possible, ensure you hydrate yourself adequately during the hours that you can drink, eat foods that will digest over a slower period of time so that you get a longer release of energy and respect your body’s signals such as tiredness and lethargy.
If you feel tired the only cure for this is sleep; drinking coffee (not possible during daylight hours during Ramadan), turning the air conditioning on cold or opening the window to get fresh air are only very temporary measures to beat sleepiness.
Pull over in a safe place and have a 10-minute power nap.
If you delay, your body will eventually begin to take micro-sleeps where your eyes close and you fall asleep for a fraction of a second. These gradually become longer until you fall asleep for long enough that you cause an accident.
Drivers who drive for a living should be particularly vigilant:
Heavy vehicle drivers and those operating vehicles such as forklift trucks and agricultural machinery should give themselves a greater margin of error.
Generally, the heavier the vehicle, the longer it takes to stop and the less manoeuvrable it is if you have to react at the last second.
Darren Cottingham is Director of www.drivingtests.co.nz, a free resource used by more than 55,000 people per month to learn the Road Code.