How to Stay Awake While Driving

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 100,000 police-reported crashes each year are caused primarily by drowsy driving.  These crashes are responsible for more than 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.

What can you do to ensure you don’t become part of these statistics?

The first step is to recognize the symptoms of sleepiness.  Most of us are not very good at predicting when we are about to fall asleep (sleep is often not voluntary) but there are some warning signs that let you know when you’re too tired to drive:

  • You have trouble focusing, your eyes keep wanting to close or your head wants to drop down
  • You find yourself frequently yawning or rubbing your eyes
  • You catch yourself daydreaming and your thoughts are wandering
  • You have drifted from your lane, you realize you’ve been tail gating, or you’ve missed signs or exits
  • You feel restless, irritable or aggressive
  • Your reaction time seems to have slowed or your judgment seems to be off

If you experience any of these signs, you may be at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.  Pull over immediately into a safe place, take a short nap, consume caffeine, or find a safe place to spend the night.

If you’re a commercial driver, drive long hours, and drive at night, you are at a high risk for crashes caused by falling asleep behind the wheel  The National Sleep Foundation has provided steps  you can take to prevent this from happening to you:

  • Get a good night sleep before a long drive
  • Eat a healthy meal before you start out.  Stay away from fast food…the fat, salt and sugar will make you tired.  Stick to whole grains, fruits and veggies
  • As mentioned above, if you notice any of the warning signs of fatigue, get off the road and take a 15-20 minute nap
  • Consume caffeine – two cups of coffee can increase your alertness for several hours.  However, do not rely on it for long periods of time.
  • Eat healthy snacks – nuts like almonds provide energy with no accompanying “sugar crash”
  • And as always, wear your seatbelt

When we drive, we take responsibility for our own safety and the safety of others on the road with us.  Remember:  No trip is worth a life.  Before you hit the road, keep these tips in mind so you can drive alert and arrive alive.

Have a safe trip!

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