The Summer Season Starts With Memorial Day
The Memorial Day Weekend if often referred to as the “unofficial” start of summer, and as we shift into our summer-mode Americans will take to the road in large numbers. This year, after an unusually long period of winter in many parts of the country, the number of people hitting the highways could be larger than normal. With this in mind, it seems like a good time to take a hard look at a commonly overlooked danger…Drowsy Driving.
The Dangers of Impaired Driving
You are putting in a long stretch behind the wheel, or you had a late night the night before, or maybe both apply. Whatever the circumstances…you are exhausted and you know it. But you continue to push yourself. You may crack the window, guzzle cups of coffee and pound energy drinks, or crank up the radio volume, relying on the belief that these age-old remedies will actually work. But the longer you stay at it, the worse it will get, and any momentary feeling of mental rejuvenation you may get is quickly replaced with an overwhelming desire for sleep. Driving under the influence (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. The dangers of impaired driving are numerous and affect not only the driver and occupants of his vehicle, but those sharing the road with him. A sleep-deprived driver will have slower reactions and difficulty controlling his vehicle. Something as simple as following the curve in a road could be a life-and-death maneuver.
Asleep At The Wheel
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. Many times this occurs in a condition called microsleep, where a sleep deprived person will essentially “black out”…unable to see things or process information even though their eye’s are open…for periods of a few seconds to a minute or two. Think about that for a moment. At highway speeds, you will travel about a mile per minute. During a microsleep, you could travel up to two miles while basically not in control. That is a frightening thought.
Warning Signs And Preventative Measures
We should be aware of the 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, head nodding, 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 preventative measure 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. However, nothing beats a good night’s sleep. Get plenty of rest in advance of your trip. 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.
Getting Some Rest
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.