We are all aware that drinking and driving is a big no. We all know it can have disastrous consequences. But what about the elephant in the room…drowsy or sleepy driving?
Let’s have a look at some of the facts before we get into the discussion.
- “100 000 car accidents each year are caused by fatigued drivers”
- “55% of drowsy driving crashes are caused by drivers younger than 25 years old”
- “Being awake for 18 hours is equal to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08%, which is legally drunk and leaves you at equal risk for causing or being involved in an accident”
- “Most crashes caused by drowsy driving occur from midnight to 8:00 am”
- “At least 15% of all heavy truck crashes involve fatigue”
Driving whilst drowsy or feeling sleepy is just as dangerous as driving under the influence. It is only a fairly natural response for your body to want to fall asleep at night as your internal clock is programmed this way. Once it is dark outside your body starts getting into a “ready-to-sleep-mode” making it much harder to stay awake.
There are 5 groups of people that are most likely to be at risk for drowsy/sleepy driving:
- Commercial Drivers who transport products across the country throughout the night.
- People under the age of 25, especially men fall into this category. Young people tend to stay out late and not pay a lot of attention to how much sleep they get, making them easy targets for drowsy driving.
- People who work shifts and extended working hours past the basic norm can become dozy drivers. The internal clocks of shift workers are constantly changing making the body prone to sleep the first chance that it gets. With employees who work into their sleeping intervals, they are depriving themselves of sleep causing the body to take a nap whenever it can.
- People with undiagnosed or untreated disorders.
- People travelling for business are often jet-lagged when they get behind a steering wheel after their flight or they are just overworked and have not had enough sleep between meetings and flights.
Drowsy driving can actually be completely avoided as it can be detected before any harm is caused. Knowing the signs can prevent you from getting behind the wheel and causing a smash. So after a night out or a shift at work, try to identify if you are too sleepy to drive by considering these characteristics of tired driving:
- Having difficulty focusing on the road
- Constantly blinking your eyes as if to will the sleep away
- Eyelids that are very heavy and you are struggling to keep them open
- Catching yourself daydreaming (or having drifting thoughts)
- Realising you are having some difficulty remembering the last few miles and you start missing all your exits or you don’t see applicable road signs
- Constant yawning and irritated eyes
- Holding your head up starts to become really hard
- Drifting from your current lane onto the white line. If there cat’s eyes on the white line and you get a fright when driving on them could be a sign that you were falling asleep.
- Feeling very irritated for no apparent reason
But what if these signs are showing up when you are already behind the wheel? This is a dangerous situation to be in but there are a few things you can do if you are still on the road. Such as:
- If you are travelling a long distance, make sure to stop at least every 2 hours (max) and get out of the car, stretch your legs and back and take in the fresh If it is in the middle of the night stop at as many garages or ultra-city stops along the way and wash your face.
- Try to have a co-driver. Take someone with you on a long trip for conversational purposes and so that should you not be able to drive they will be able to take over.
- Don’t make the vehicle too warm inside during the winter months. Instead, make it just warm enough so that your body’s normal temperature can be sustained. If it is too warm you will quickly become very sleepy.
- Caffeine intake can also be a great way to keep awake but using it alone is not enough. Caffeine takes at least 30 minutes to take effect, leaving room for anything to happen. Consider combining caffeine (coffee) with washing your face, getting in a good stretch and inhaling some fresh air.
- If you have done all of the above and you are still drowsy/sleepy then find a garage to pull into (for safety) and take a 15 – 20min nap (not more than 20min) or find a motel for the night.
Prevent the sleepiness altogether
They say that prevention is better than cure. Rather than risk being sleepy, it could be a good idea to rather aim to be rested and rejuvenated before you climb behind the wheel. While there are ways to stay awake while on the road, the best thing to do is to drive with a rested mind.
Here are a few things you can do to ensure that you are ready for that long drive:
- Getting a good night’s sleep on a “perfect-for-you” mattress is the first step to ensuring everyone’s safety. 7 – 9 hours of good rest should do the trick
- Call up your road trip friends, family or if it is for business, arrange with the company to send someone with you when you know you are going to be driving long distances. Having a passenger there who can help you to quickly detect the signs of fatigue and help with the driving can make all the difference.
- Plan your route with stops included so that you are not rushed and have adequate time along the way to rest up and freshen up.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol will not only affect your driving skills, your response time, and your judgement but also make you drowsy so much quicker.
- Medication that can cause drowsiness is also a big no. Make 100% sure that any medication you are using does not cause drowsiness especially in the case of over-the-counter medicine.
Every time you decide to get behind the steering wheel of your vehicle you not only hold your own life in your hands but also those of everybody you are sharing the road with. By making sure that you have paid attention to a few small factors, such as a good night’s rest, you are ensuring that you and others will not be detrimentally affected by your sleepiness. It only takes a split second, one moment of dozing off behind a steering wheel or behind too drowsy to react quickly enough, to create an accident and change your life and the lives of others dramatically. So make sure that you are resting on the right bed and getting enough sleep.
Be safe, rest well, be alert.
Guest Blog by Vasti Lourens