It's common sense not to get behind a wheel when you're exhausted. Most sleep-related driving accidents tend to happen in the middle of the night, but sleep-related accidents also peak in mid-afternoon. Drivers who become drowsy or fall asleep at the wheel contribute to thousands of crashes each year.
Our circadian rhythms dictate that we will be most tired in the middle of our nighttime sleep period, and then again about 12 hours later. Associated with the earth's rotation, it causes nearly everyone to be less alert or even drowsy between 1 and 5 p.m.
Emotional stress, illness, or boredom can also cause fatigue. Sun glare, a major factor in eyestrain, can contribute to fatigue. Overeating, drinking alcoholic beverages, or riding in an overheated or very cold vehicle can compound the effects. Driver fatigue affects all age groups, but did you know that young drivers are four times more likely than those over the age of 30 to have sleep-related crashes?
What can you do to prevent tiredness from making you another crash statistic?
Start any trip by getting enough sleep the night before - at least six hours is recommended. Wear good quality sunglasses, avoid heavy foods and, of course, don't consume any alcohol during your trip. If you can, have another person ride with you, so you will have someone to talk to and who can share the driving. Avoid driving during your body's downtime.
Be on the alert for these signs of sleepiness:
- trouble keeping your eyes open
- difficulty paying attention, or yawning frequently
- Thoughts or car beginning to weave
If you notice any of these danger signs, stop periodically for a rest, and if needed, a quick nap - even 20 minutes will help. During your break, get some exercise - it helps you become more alert quickly.
The problem with long-distance driving is that many people do not know, or choose to ignore, how much driving is too much. On long trips, schedule a 15-minute break outside the vehicle every two hours or every 160 km. There is no rule to say how far you should drive at any given time, but no destination is worth risking your life. Don't overextend yourself. Determine a reasonable distance in advance, and stop driving when you reach it.
If you must stop for a rest, stop at a designated rest area or parking lot. It usually is not advisable to just pull off to the side of the road to sleep, yet there may be times when it is better to pull off the road and nap than to continue driving and chance falling asleep behind the wheel.
Avoiding driver fatigue on long trips
You should look out for these signs when you are driving (long and short trips):
- for long trips plan in advance so you know where you are going to take a break.
- take a break at least every 2 hours.
- plan to stay somewhere overnight if you are going on a long journey.
- share the driving - and make sure the you rest when you are not driving.
- try not to drive when you would normally be asleep (early mornings and late nights.
- you keep yawning
- your reactions slow down
- you feel stiff your eyes feel heavy
- you find you are day dreaming
- you wander over the centre line or
- on to the edge of the road
If you must stop along the roadway to rest, follow these precautions:
- Stop at a roadside rest area . If no such facility is available, make sure that you are as far off the highway as possible.
- If it is after dark, find a lighted area to park.
- Give yourself a little outside air, but make sure that windows are closed enough to prevent entry from the outside.
- Lock all doors.
- Turn on your parking lights and turn off other electrical equipment.
- After you rest, get out of the vehicle and walk for a few minutes to be sure you are completely awake before you begin to drive again.