Fatigue - the quiet killer on our roads

By Sophie Ryan of the Northern Advocate -
Charlotte Henare wants to tell her story of falling asleep at the wheel, and the story of her sister who died in March in Dargaville. Photo / APN
Charlotte Henare wants to tell her story of falling asleep at the wheel, and the story of her sister who died in March in Dargaville. Photo / APN

Charlotte Henare knows the danger and tragedy that driving while tired brings.

Three months ago Ms Henare fell asleep at the wheel and crashed. She survived.

But sadly, a month after Ms Henare's accident, her sister was not so lucky.

Mihi Henare-Anderson was killed on March 5 when her car drifted into a bank on State Highway 12, south-east of Dargaville. Police believe she fell asleep on her way home from work.

Ms Henare said she couldn't believe it when she received the bad news. "My sister was very popular. She's left behind a very good family."

She said upon reading about the Safer Journeys campaign last week to raise awareness of the danger of driver fatigue she was compelled to get in touch with the Northern Advocate. "I read about it and all these memories came back. I thought if I could get the message across to people, and something good could come out of it, then I had to do it."

Ms Henare's lucky escape came after she dozed off on her way home from work with her granddaughter asleep in the back-seat.

She lost control of her car, it spun three times on Pipiwai Rd and stopped just short of plunging off the road and into a creek. "Still to this day I am amazed I am still here."

Ms Henare works 39km away from her home at Kura Kaupapa Maori o te Rawhiti Roa in Tikipunga. On the day of her accident she was yawning and felt her eyelids grow heavy. "I should have listened to what my body was telling me."

Instead of pulling over and getting out, Ms Henare kept driving and fell asleep.

The wheels drifted off the road into the loose gravel, awakening her.

Locals saw the car spinning and rushed to help Ms Henare, who was shocked and upset.

"I just grabbed my granddaughter, got out of my car and cried."

She said the crash was a big shock, and taught her a lesson - that driving when she is feeling tired is not worth the risk.

"Now if I am tired I stay in town. I might go to my daughter's and watch TV and have a rest."

She hopes people will listen to her story, and the tragic loss of her sister, and be more aware.

In the past 12 months there have been four fatalities on Northland roads that police believe were caused by fatigue.

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