Ever wonder how life would be if you weren’t so busy? Many of us spend a lot of hours working so we can provide for our family. It’s in our nature to ensure we earn enough money to put a roof over our heads, food on the table and if there’s any money remaining, provide us with the little extras that make life more enjoyable. But when does it get to be too much for us? How fatigued is too fatigued? Are you so exhausted that you’re a danger to yourself and others if you get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle?
It used to be normal to work 40 hours per week. But for many, especially those with larger families, 40 hours may not help you earn enough money to provide all the comforts of home. With some people, logging extra hours at work gives them that extra income to take a family vacation, or buy more gifts, or save for retirement. Is 50 hours too much? What about 60 hours per week? In many cases, it can lead to chronic fatigue if it’s done regularly. And if you’re driving, this combination could be lethal.
Driving while fatigued or drowsy driving, as many may say, puts us at greater risk for crashing. Drowsy driving may happen more than you realize. It’s not just that your body is tired. Your brain is also tired. It stops functioning as well as it needs to in order to keep you driving safely.
When our brain is too tired it can stop us from making logical driving decisions. Messages sent to your hands, feet and eyes tend to be delayed, which can seriously affect the outcome of your driving task. To illustrate this, think of how you may act at home when you’re tired. You may not be as active, your responses—physical and mental—may be slower and you may not be thinking as clearly as you normally would. Do you really want to drive when you’re feeling this way? Can you imagine this happening while you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle? This is too dangerous to even consider letting it happen. Yet many people ignore the symptoms of fatigue and keep driving.
As drivers, we need to recognize the early signs of fatigue. These signs may include very low energy, excessive yawning, droopy eyelids, having a difficulty keeping your eyes open or drifting from side to side in your lane. You may also find it challenging to focus on a single task for any length of time. You may even have trouble remembering how you got to your current location. If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, it is probably time to safely park somewhere before it’s too late. Keep in mind, closing your eyes for just 2 seconds at 55 mph, means your vehicle will travel roughly 160 feet without you seeing what’s ahead. Quite a distance to drive with your eyes closed, right?
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As drivers, we should be cognizant of these key signs of fatigue before getting into the vehicle. However, during longer drives, these symptoms of drowsiness may begin to appear while you’re deep into your trip. When this happens, there are a few things you can do to remain alert and awake until you can get safely parked.
Let’s begin with the short term plan. Many drivers believe drinking strong coffee or a cold caffeinated drink can help keep them awake. Others will direct the air conditioning vents to blow cold air on their face. Some drivers roll their windows down to get fresh air. And of course we’re all too familiar with the tricks of playing the music loudly or trying to hold a detailed conversation with vehicle passengers. These techniques might work for some, but normally only for a very short time. If you need to do any of these for just a few minutes until you can safely get off the road, it may do the trick. However, the best solution for being a fatigued driver is getting adequate sleep.
Finding a safe place to pull over and rest is the best solution for dealing with the immediate issue of fatigue. Many people are fortunate to be able to power nap and wake up refreshed. If this includes you, find a parking lot, lock your doors and take that 15- to 20-minute nap. Quite often this little snooze is refreshing enough to restore alertness and enable you to drive off safely. If you need more than 15 to 20 minutes, take it. No need to rush yourself as you may become drowsy once again while you’re still driving.
Short-term solutions may be fine when you find yourself fatigued and behind the wheel but being proactive is the best approach. That means avoiding fatigued driving altogether. Getting plenty of rest before starting that long drive can make a world of difference. Your mind is refreshed and you’re ready to tackle whatever the road brings you. To stay refreshed, schedule breaks every few hours to allow enough time to get out, stretch, get the blood flowing and to take a restroom break. The breaks don’t have to be long breaks. They just need to give you a respite from driving. One of the best proactive solutions for avoiding drowsy driving is to share the driving duties with passengers. The key here is to switch seats before you get too tired. Don’t wait.
Another thing to keep in mind is to avoid eating heavy meals before driving. Light snacks are better than a big meal as they may contain less fat content. High fat content can put you in “snoozeville” very easily. Apples are great to keep you alert and awake since the vitamins from apples, specifically the skin, are released slowly throughout the body, making you feel more awake. Keeping the temperature cool inside the vehicle can also help prevent driver fatigue. A very warm interior may cause or exacerbate drowsiness.
There are numerous things drivers can do to prevent drowsy driving. Whether it’s a short- or long-term solution, do something to stay you awake. You’re worth it.
About the Author
Scott Marshall has spent over 30 years promoting road safety. He has been a road safety journalist since 2005. Scott was also an on-air judge on the Discovery Network’s Canada’s Worst Driver during its first three seasons. Scott welcomes any questions or comments you may have at firstname.lastname@example.org.