Drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes and 800 deaths in 2013, according to statistics collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This is a serious problem that continues to grow, and it’s important to know some basic safety tips for the road so that you don’t find yourself driving in an unsafe state.
Although many people are tempted to keep driving when they are tired, it’s vital to prevent sleep deprivation when you’ll be driving so that you’re not involved in an accident. Making sure you’re alert and attentive when driving will protect you, your passengers, and others on the road.
Who’s at Risk of Driving Drowsy?
Anyone can become drowsy while driving if the right precautions aren’t taken. Some might think that they can function at a normal level when they only get a few hours of sleep, but this isn’t true. Everyone requires quality sleep, and the moment that you neglect this human need, you’re at a higher risk of an accident.
However, there are a series of factors that can lead to drowsy driving that you might not realize:
- Not getting a full eight hours of sleep at night. Waking up feeling unenergized is a sign that you didn’t get enough quality sleep, even if you were in bed for eight or more hours. This type of fragmented sleep is often common with those with insomnia or new parents.
- Using sleep aids or types of medications that’s side effects include making you feel lethargic.
- Working night or swing shifts that alter your body clock (known as circadian rhythms).
- Consuming narcotics or alcohol (or a combination of the two).
- Lengthy or monotonous drives.
As well as the factors stated above, it’s essential to recognize that although drowsy driving is an issue that can affect everyone, there are certain people who are more prone to it. For example, rotating shift workers that work irregular hours, business travelers that could be jet-lagged, long-haul truckers who consistently make long drives alone, and anyone who is sleep deprived is at a higher risk of falling asleep at the wheel.
The National Sleep Foundation also found that “men are more likely to drive drowsy than women (56 vs. 45 percent) and are almost twice as likely to fall asleep at the wheel.”
What Are the Signs?
In order to stop it from happening, you need to first know what signs you should look out for. When you’re driving, if you start experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should pull over immediately:
- Frequent yawning.
- An inability to stay focused, which might lead you to miss your turn, tailgate or drift into another lane.
- You can’t keep your head up.
- You don’t know how far you have driven.
Tips for Avoiding Driving Drowsy
Although a large portion of states have penalized drowsy driving by passing legislation (for example, Maggie’s Law) and introducing initiatives like Drowsy Driver Awareness Day, police and road safety officials are still struggling to keep drowsy drivers off the roads.
It’s your responsibility, to yourself, your passengers, and others on the road, to drive safely and attentively. Here are some tips you can follow to stay alert on the road:
- Get good quality sleep every day, lasting at least 8 hours or more. By doing this, you’ll rejuvenate your body and mind so that it’s ready for the drive.
- Take regular breaks while on the road. By stopping en route, you’ll be able to recharge your batteries so that you don’t run the risk of drowsy driving. If you start feeling tired, pull over at a rest stop and take a 15–45-minute power nap. Truckers can even get a custom truck mattress that will fit in a cab to help them get the sleep they need to be alert while spending long hours on the road.
- Stay caffeinated. Be aware that this is not a long-term solution. But if you just need a quick pick-me-up, caffeine may help alleviate drowsiness; just know that it takes about half an hour to take effect!
- When possible, don’t drive at night. it will only damage your body clock.*
- Avoid medications that make you sleepy.
- Don’t drink alcohol if you’re planning on driving.
- Try not to drive alone. By driving with a passenger, you’ll be able to stay engaged through conversation.
At the end of the day, the most important thing you can do is consistently get enough sleep. Using tricks like listening to loud music, turning the air conditioning on high, and eating while driving to help you keep awake do not change the fact that you’re still driving drowsy and a danger on the road.