Drowsy DrivingWe’ve all experienced it…
You are putting in a long stretch behind the wheel, or you had a late night the night before, or maybe both apply. Either way you are exhausted, and you know it. But you continue to push yourself. You may crack the window, or turn up the radio volume, assuming these age-old remedies will actually work. But any feeling of mental rejuvenation is quickly replaced with an overwhelming desire for sleep.
Impaired driving (alcohol or drug) is a more commonly known condition than drowsy driving, but they are very similar in their effect on the driver. For example, someone that has been awake for 20 hours experiences the same impairment as someone with a blood alcohol concentration of .08%, which is the legal limit in all states. So why is it that so many of us find it morally reprehensible to drive drunk, but merely a challenge to drive while fatigued? It could be that we feel we are able to control fatigue, whereas intoxication puts control beyond our reach. Or maybe we just don’t understand how fatigue affects our ability to operate a vehicle. Whatever the reason, a recent survey found that 20% of adults in the United States admit that they’ve actually fallen asleep behind the wheel within the last year. This fact alone is one reason O’Hare-Midway places such a priority of safe driving practices.
There are warning signs to look for, but as with impairment from alcohol, the decision making process becomes faulty when you’re tired. Trouble with focusing or keeping your eyes open, frequent yawning, constant shifting of your body position, and drifting from your lane are indications that you are fatigued and need to take responsible action immediately.
Putting some of the old ideas aside, the best solution to fight fatigue is sleep. However, we live in a busy world, and it’s unrealistic to think you can curl up in bed for 8 hours every time you’re tired. A good secondary option is called “power napping”. Most of us have heard the term, and it refers to a short nap of about 20 minutes. Ideally, downing caffeine just prior to the power nap will enhance the result, but a solid power nap will help restore alertness for a few hours, which may be enough to get you to your destination – or a safe stopping point – safely.
Looking to prevent fatigue in advance? Maybe you have a long road trip coming up, or a day that includes being behind the wheel for extended periods. Sleep is again the most logical solution. Get plenty of rest in advance. Sleep deprivation has a cumulative effect, and is not relieved by one night’s sleep. Two-thirds of Americans regularly don’t the number of hours sleep that doctors recommend, so when you know you will be putting in long hours, start cutting into your sleep deficit by getting 7 to 8 hours sleep every night for at least a week in advance. Also, eat and drink smart. A healthy diet and proper hydration help fight fatigue. Driving with a friend can help keep you alert, as long as you engage in conversation. And finally, rely on caffeine for short term help. It is not a long term solution, but a couple of cups of coffee or a caffeinated soda will keep you alert for a few hours.
The smartest decision to make when driving tired is to stop driving. Recognizing that you are fatigued is the first step, finding a safe place to stop is the next, and getting some sleep…is the best.