It’s happened to all of us; we’re driving down the road – maybe we’ve taken a family vacation and haven’t stopped to sleep yet, maybe we’re on our way home from a long day at work or school, you know what I mean – and the heavy wall of sleep hits us, and hits us hard.
Where moments ago we were certain we would stay awake and alert the entire way to our destination, we are now drowning in our own tiredness, and don’t know how much longer we can make it before we have to hit the hay – wherever there’s hay to be hit, so to speak.
There’s no shame in this, but it’s certainly a dangerous condition to have on the road, and I’m sure we all know how absolutely terrifying it is to snap awake after just a brief moment of drifting off, and wonder how long you were asleep and how you survived just now – trust me, I’ve been there.
To help us all, I’ve decided to make a list of all the tips and tricks I use (and some I was able to find) to staying awake on the road, and fighting the drowsy monster. Let’s get started.
Signs You’re Too Tired
First off, you need to be able to recognize that you’re too tired to keep going before you actually drift off for a second and suddenly see your life flashing before your eyes.
After all, driving is a complex activity, and requires all of your attention, as well as split-second decisions every second you’re on the road.
You may not notice, but lapses in attention and slower reactions to things happen well before you’re actually so tired you fall asleep while driving, and that alone means you’re too tired to drive safely.
Here are a few other signs you should pull over and catch some z’s:
- Difficulty focusing;
- Frequent blinking or “heavy” eyelids;
- Daydreaming or wandering/disconnected thoughts;
- Trouble remembering the last few miles driven;
- Missing obvious exits or traffic signs;
- Frequent yawning or rubbing your eyes;
- Trouble holding your head up;
- Drifting from your lane or hitting a shoulder rumble strip;
- Feeling restless and irritable.
Even if you’re awake, if you notice these things happening to you, it means that your brain is not functioning optimally for safe driving, and is therefore not capable of making the quick decisions and actions necessary for driving.
Tips For Staying Alert
While it’s understandable that things may occur that are outside the realm of your control – for instance, a large traffic accident or jam that causes the roads to be backed up for hours when you just want to go home after a long day – it’s important to take any measures necessary to ensure that you’re awake and fully alert the entire time you’re going to be operating your motor vehicle.
The absolute best way to ensure your mind and body are in optimal driving shape is to plan any trips ahead (whether you’re just going to work, or going on vacation), and get 7 to 8 hours of sleep the night before. There are a lot of other very helpful methods as well, however. They include:
- Pre-drive nap: Who doesn’t love naps, am I right? Taking a short nap before a road trip can do wonders for making up for a short or restless nights’ sleep, and can energize you enough to get going, at least for a little while.
- Mid-drive nap: Much like the pre-drive nap, but a little different, the mid-drive nap is a great way to renew your energy in the middle of your trip without having to spend money on an expensive and strange hotel room. If you find yourself becoming drowsy while driving, pull over at a rest stop or somewhere safe to catch a few z’s before continuing your journey. Make sure you’ve pulled over in a safe location (so not the shoulder of the highway, folks), and remember that you’ll be groggy for a few minutes after waking, so give yourself time to fully wake up.
- Bring a buddy: The safest way to travel, especially long distances, is to bring a partner to drive. With this system, you’re able to schedule intervals in which you drive, and intervals in which they drive, allowing you both to rest from time to time to avoid getting drowsy while behind the wheel.
- No rushing: No matter your destination, the people or place you’re going to would much rather see you arrive safely and alive than right on time.
- Don’t drink and drive: Unless it’s water, soda, or juice, it probably shouldn’t be in your vehicle or in your body while you’re operating a vehicle of any kind. Even small amounts of alcohol will enhance drowsiness, as well as hindering your ability to react properly to situations. Not to mention that driving while intoxicated is illegal, and extremely dangerous, so you definitely shouldn’t do it.
- Caffeine is your friend: Drinking caffeinated drinks such as coffee or soda improves alertness, but proceed with caution – the effects of these drinks do wear off after a few hours, so be prepared to either refuel after a while, or stop when you finally do become drowsy.
Crashes Related to Drowsy Driving Statistics
It is unfortunate that even with the advancements in technology, determining a precise number of drowsy-driving crashes, injuries, and fatalities is still not yet possible.
If you refer to the census conducted by the NHTSA on the number of fatal crashes related to drowsy driving, you’ll find that their data mostly rely on the police and hospital reports. Even with that data, it’s still hard to find identifiable and conclusive evidence that shows an accident was caused by a sleepy driver because he or she can easily deny the fact.
Nevertheless, the NHTSA reports that in 2019, 697 fatalities in vehicle crashes involved drowsy drivers. That’s 1.9 percent of total driving fatalities that year, down 11.2 percent from 785 in 2018. They also identified that most crashes caused by drowsy driving occur between 6 AM and midnight.
Meanwhile, a 2020 national survey of 2,000 respondents revealed that most Americans have some hesitation about driving alone at night. The same study reveals that 25% fear driving alone at night, while 19% have poor night vision as their biggest concern. This is closely followed by 12% being impaired drivers.
Hopefully, this article has provided enough tips to help you prevent drowsy driving. Keep safe!