Aside from a diagnosed condition of narcolepsy, sleepiness is a common phenomenon especially for those who frequently travel for extended periods of time on highways and rural areas. Although long road trips and business travel is a common activity for many of us, there is an ongoing natural risk to this environment: drowsy driving. Drowsy driving is the tendency for someone to fall asleep behind the wheel, and is a prominent issue of highway safety.
The dangers are readily apparent; driving requires alertness, quick reflexes, a strong and adequate level of judgment, and the driver’s full attention. It is tempting to ‘switch off’ when driving extended periods of time, especially with comfortable music or passengers and distractions behind the wheel. However, these drivers are putting both themselves and others at a huge risk.
Drowsy driving can be a cause of inadequate sleep, limited ability to retain alertness, not enough stops during the drive for rest, and overall fatigue. Many construction workers, third shift employees, young adults, and truck drivers are at a higher risk for drowsy driving due to the nature of their jobs or trade. If you or the driver exhibits the following symptoms of drowsy driving, take caution! Although these may sound like common sense, they are often overlooked by drowsy drivers in action:
-Find yourself drifting into the rumble strip or center lane
-Cars are honking or flashing their lights to get your attention
-Frequent yawning and deep, shallow breathing
-Eyes becoming heavy, and a frequent need to blink or open them to a wide-eyed state
-Finding yourself loosening your grip on the wheel
-Not noticing scenery, traffic signs, or other vehicles
-Finding yourself nodding off and jerking back awake frequently
-Tailgating too close
Taking measures to prevent drowsy driving is a simple process:
- Make a note of your own biological clock and learn your body’s natural rhythms; are you more alert during the day, or night? Most people experience a ‘low’ in the mid-late afternoon, and after midnight. Avoid driving during these times.
- Make sure you take a break at least every 100 miles; this will help you get some fresh air, stretch, or even take a short nap to refresh. It is worth the extra effort, and you will be more likely to complete your trip as a result.
- Talk to passengers, or talk out loud! Make sure you can still maintain a steady pace and focus in conversation, as this is often an indicator of fatigue or sleepiness.
- Eat an apple! Not only is this a great healthy snack, but the apple’s natural sugars will boost your brainpower almost immediately. You will be more alert (and healthy) than downing another cup of coffee.
- Avoid excessive caffeine; caffeine intoxication can lead to fatigue and impaired coordination. If you are a frequent coffee drinker, don’t overdo it because you will be driving; it may have an opposite effect.
- Avoid alcohol! Drinking and driving DO NOT mix, no matter what the situation. Observe good judgment and refrain from drinking any alcohol before settling behind the wheel.
Practice good driving and highway safety with these tips and suggestions. Be sure to identify other drivers who may be experiencing drowsy driving if you are a passenger, and do offer to change seats for a period of time until they can get some rest. There are simple strategies to avoid drowsy driving, and these can greatly improve highway and driving safety.