Hitting the road can be a nice way to travel. You can leave when you like, choose your route, stop when you want to and avoid airplane food and airport security. Just make sure you get a good night’s sleep before you go.
Drowsy Driving Risks
Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that 6% to 11% of reported motor-vehicle crashes and 16% to 21% of fatal crashes likely involve drowsy driving. Fatigue impairs your driving skills, affecting your judgement and reaction time, just like being drunk, drugged or distracted.
And while the majority of Americans know it’s risky to drive drowsy, most do it anyway. The latest update from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), revealed that 62% of drivers admit to “having ever driven while so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.”
Missing even a couple of hours of sleep can increase your risk of a crash. So, what’s a road tripper to do?
Sleep to prepare.
The tactics that we usually employ to stay awake (think: turning up the volume on the radio, drinking coffee or putting the windows down for fresh air) are merely short-term solutions that will eventually fade. The only way to effectively rid yourself of drowsiness is to get a good night’s rest before any road trip, long or short.
Time it right.
Late morning, late afternoon and early evening are when we’re most alert, according to the NSF, with drowsy-driving accidents most likely to happen during early morning and late-night hours. Time your drive for your most wakeful hours, and make sure to take a break every two hours or 100 miles.
Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving.
Mind your meds.
Pain relievers, antihistamines and other medications can make you drowsy and impair your ability to drive. Pay attention to those warnings on the label and time your dosage accordingly.
Sleep expert Michael Breus suggests this trick for getting the most out of a rest stop nap: First, avoid eating any heavy foods. Next, quickly consume your caffeinated beverage of choice. When you finish your last sip, set your alarm and take a 20-minute nap. The caffeine will hit your system in 20-25 minutes.
Seek out sleep-friendly stops.
It’s recommended to schedule a break from driving every two hours or 100 miles, but multiday trips require much longer stretches of rest. Try to choose a hotel with rooms away from the street. Bring your own pillows, white-noise options and keep the blackout curtains completely closed.
Know when to pull over. If you find yourself repeatedly yawning, unable to keep your eyes open, driving too close to the car in front of you or drifting into other lanes, it’s time to pull off the road and get some rest. You just might save yourself from being one of the 6,400 people who die each year in drowsy driving accidents.
Have you ever caught yourself getting sleepy behind the wheel? What are your tricks for staying awake and alert on long drives? Share with us in the comments.
(Illustration: Gary Hovland)