Drowsy Driving – Drowsy Driving Can be Just as Bad as Driving Drunk!

By Clinton Marquardt - Sleep & Fatigue Specialist

October 16, 2009

caffeine, fatigue, other disorders, shift-work, sleep and travel, snoring

Tips to Help You Stay Alert Behind the Wheel

If you are planning a road trip, keep in mind that sleepiness will:

  • Slow down your reaction time
  • Decrease your awareness of what is going on around you, and
  • Impair your good driving judgment

These effects happen even if you aren’t sleepy enough to nod right off. They begin when you start to feel the nice, comfortable level of relaxation, just before sleepiness sets in! So don’t think that as long as you aren’t fighting sleep you are OK. Fatigue’s effects are dangerous and set in as soon as you start to feel relaxed.

When you plan your road trip, work these tips in so you stay safe and arrive alive!

  1. Always get a good night’s sleep before you hop behind the wheel. If you are not sleeping well on a regular basis, then it’s time to figure out why.
  2. Bring along a passenger to help keep you alert, share the driving and look for warning signs of fatigue. Switch drivers often, maybe even once every hour.
  3. Schedule regular breaks. Find a safe place to stop and take a good nap if you are tired. A great way to cat nap is to mimic the dark of night time by using a sleep mask.  Also get out of the car and stretch, walk or exercise after the nap. But don’t use napping as a way to deal with a poor or short night of sleep. In other words, don’t go out partying the night before and then tell yourself it’s OK to stay up late because you can take a nap along your road trip. That’s just asking for sleepiness to sneak up on you and head you straight to the ditch….or worse!
  4. Never drink alcohol during your road trip, not even if you are stopping for a long break . After the noticeable effects of alcohol wear off and you no longer have an illegal blood alcohol level, you will be fatigued and that can lead to risky driving.
  5. If you plan on taking any medication, before or during your road trip, research the side effects well. There are lots of prescription and over the counter drugs that can lead to fatigue. Car sickness pills and allergy pills are two big ones to watch out for because they will often cause fatigue.
  6. Drink coffee or some sort energy drink with caffeine to promote short term alertness. But don’t wait until you are tired, drink it about an hour before you think fatigue may happen. If you are driving early in the morning or from the middle of the afternoon into the evening, take in some caffeine even if you don’t think fatigue will be a problem. These times of the day are particularly risky because our bodies naturally fall into a much more relaxed state due to circadian rhythm changes. If you are a regular coffee or energy drink user, click here to read about caffeine addiction.
  7. To be a safe driver, pay attention to your own biological clock. Although early morning and middle of the afternoon are risky times to drive, you may also have other times that are risky. What times of day do you feel most alert? What times do you feel most sleepy? Do not drive when you are even the least bit fatigued.
  8. Don’t drive from about 11:00 pm until 8:00 am. This is the period of highest risk for accidents due to fatigue. Even if you aren’t fatigued, you can bet there are fatigued drivers on the road and they are unpredictable and dangerous to encounter. Do yourself a favour and sleep at night instead.
  9. If you are tired more than you think you should be, have difficulty sleeping at night or you think you might have sleep apnea, then ask your doctor for help.
  10. If you snore, it could be disturbing your sleep or your driving partner’s sleep without either of you knowing. Stop the snoring, sleep better and drive safer by using an effective anti-snoring product.

Thanks to L. Orr, BA, RPSGT for her help with this article.


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