Drive Safe, Not Drowsy!

Driving in the Rain
Photo by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

It is 6pm Friday night, and you just pulled out of the parking lot at work.  You’ve got at least four hours of driving ahead of you before you arrive in Las Vegas where you are meeting some friends for the weekend.  Yawning deeply, you wonder if driving up after work was a good idea, especially since you were not able to leave early like you had hoped.  Pulling onto the highway, you merge with traffic and then engage the cruise control.

A half hour later you feel your eyes starting to get heavy. The monotony of the road, the drone of the engine and the warmth of the car is taking its toll on your alertness.  You shake your head to wake yourself up a bit, but it is just so comfortable in the car. You feel your eyes droop even more.  You can’t fall asleep now, you’ve still got hours to drive…

Falling asleep while driving is very common and one of the leading causes of car crashes and vehicle fatalities.  It is thought that drowsy drivers may cause as many as 100,000 crashes and 1,550 highway deaths a year, in the United States alone.

What causes the drowsiness?
There are many causes for falling asleep at the wheel. The drone of the engine, the monotony of the road, driving too long, lack of sleep, an alcoholic drink (even one you had hours before) and some medications can all affect your alertness level.

What should I do if I start feeling drowsy?
If you find yourself yawning, daydreaming, drifting out of your lane or feel your eyes becoming heavy, it is time to take action.  Here are five things you can do to keep yourself safe on the road.

  1. Pull over: Pull safely over to the roadside to break the monotony of the road and take stock.  You may need to find a place to sleep for the night if you find you are too tired to continue safely.
  2. Change drivers: If you have a passenger who is a qualified driver and is alert, have them drive instead.
  3. Find a roadside rest area: Get out of the car, walk around a little, stretch or do some simple exercises to help wake you up.  Or take a quick 15 to 20 minute power nap in your locked car to increase your alertness and boost your energy levels.  Make sure you are parked somewhere safe though.
  4. Eat and drink something: Drink water and eat a healthy snack, but not ones full of sugar or fat. That can help to restore your energy levels to some degree.  Also, make sure to stay away from alcoholic drinks.  Alcohol not only impairs driving ability, but also acts as a depressant and induces fatigue.  And don’t rely on caffeine to keep you awake for a long time.  Caffeine provides a quick, but short-lived improvement in alertness.  Only use it when you need a short term energy boost.
  5. Make your driving environment more stimulating: Playing music loudly and singing along while letting cool, fresh air hit your face can help combat drowsiness.  If you can’t open the window, put the air conditioning on instead.  You don’t want to be too comfortable because that will lead to you falling asleep.

How can I avoid getting drowsy?
With a little pre-planning you can avoid getting drowsy altogether.  Here are four things to think about before getting into your car.

  1. Don’t drive for too long after dark: At night we feel more tired and are at an increased risk of falling asleep.  So, it is always a good idea to not drive for many hours during the night.
  2. Don’t plan long drives after a full day of work: After a long day of work we tend to be fatigued, both physically and mentally.  But if you have to, make sure you had a good night’s rest the day before.
  3. Plan breaks during long drives: Whether you are feeling sleepy or not, it is important to take breaks at least every 2 to 3 hours.  This is an opportunity for you to eat something and to stretch or walk a bit.  This will make you more alert to what is going on around you when you are on the road. Without any breaks there is a tendency to zone out, even if you don’t fall asleep.  So, give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination.  That way you have time to take some much needed breaks.
  4. Don’t drive at all if you are taking medications that induce drowsiness: So, if you are on medication, check the warnings on the bottle to see if they affect alertness.

The bottom line:
Falling asleep on the road is dangerous and not to be taken lightly.  I know that most people want to get to their destination as soon as possible, even if they are feeling drowsy.  But that’s not a risk worth taking.  You could hurt or kill yourself or someone else.  So, take your time, schedule regular breaks and be smart on the road.  The drive will be both safer and more enjoyable that way!

Comments (6)

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  1. Myque says:

    If you could give suggestions to staying awake during lecture, that would also be very helpful 🙂

  2. Rosy says:

    Nice post and advise, Talli! I was guilty of driving for a long time after a 10-12 hour work day. I almost crashed a couple of time. I learned to take a nap before my drive or listen to audio books. At the end, I just had to cut down my hours. This is important information 🙂

  3. Talli van Sunder says:

    @Myque How about taking interesting classes and if that isn’t possible get a good night’s rest and eat a healthy breakfast. That will make you more alert. It is hard to concentrate without food and sleep.

  4. Maria Isabel says:

    Good Show! The highways have too many people sleepy at the wheel.

  5. […] Here are the links that I promised: “Running: The Gold Standard of Exercise” and “Drive Safe, Not Drowsy.” […]

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