Preventing Driving Fatigue

Preventing Drowsy Driving: Spotting The Signs of Fatigue & Taking Action

Updated Dec. 14, 2020

Rest is the only cure for fatigue. When you are tired or feeling mentally or physically drained, the only sure way to stay safe is to rest before driving, or not to drive at all. After a hard day at school or a tiring shift at work, people often force themselves to drive, thinking they will rest when they get home. Sadly, many drivers every year around the United States make this mistake and pay a high price for it. It is impossible to accurately track the number of serious injuries and deaths caused by drowsy driving, as fatigue-related crashes often have severe consequences and the people involved may not live through the experience to explain what happened.

Driving while tired – even on a short and familiar route from work or school – can have devastating consequences. If you are feeling the effects of fatigue, take a nap or rest your eyes for a while before attempting to drive home. This section covers what you need to know about drowsy driving prevention and how to stay safe if tiredness strikes while you’re driving.

Spotting the signs of drowsiness

If you have been relatively active prior to getting into the car, you may not have noticed how tired you truly are. While driving, monitor your physical and mental state closely, looking out for the tell-tale signs that fatigue is setting in. Ask yourself:

  • Am I having trouble maintaining a constant speed?
  • Am I slouching in the driver’s seat more than usual?
  • Am I having difficulty keeping my eyes open?
  • Have I driven over the rumble strip on the end of the roadway, or the raised lane dividers?
  • Am I having trouble remembering what has happened over the past few minutes?
  • Is my mind wandering?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, it is likely you are experiencing the symptoms of fatigue.

Mitigating the effects of fatigue

If you suspect you are fatigued before setting off on a journey, use these tips to keep yourself safe:

  1. 1

    Put your seat belt on – you should do this every time you drive anyway!

  2. 2

    Maintain a good posture in the driver’s seat. Avoid leaning forwards or backward as you will have less control over the vehicle and are more likely to fall asleep.

  3. 3

    Keep your eyes moving while scanning the road. Looking at a single point for too long can cause highway hypnosis and make you feel sleepy.

  4. 4

    Lower the temperature in the car by opening the window or running the aircon. Drivers are more likely to feel drowsy and fall asleep in hot cars.

  5. 5

    Drive slower than you would usually and increase your following distance; you must make allowances for drowsiness impairing your reaction time.

  6. 6

    Listen to upbeat music or chat with your passengers, but only if you can do so without becoming distracted, as this would increase danger rather than mitigate it. If there are no passengers in your car, try talking aloud to yourself!

If you begin to feel physically unwell or sleepy, have trouble thinking straight or experience blurred vision, pull over and stop driving. These symptoms indicate that your fatigue has reached a dangerous level. Start looking for rest stops, service areas or safe places off the roadway where you can stop for a nap. Drowsy drivers should not pull over and rest on the shoulder of the road, except in emergency situations.

Using highway rest areas

Most highways have rest stops at regular intervals to allow drowsy drivers a place to get off the road. If you are feeling tired and a rest area is coming up, take advantage of the opportunity to pull over and have a nap. Before getting back on the road, make sure you get out of the car to stretch your legs and get some fresh air. You should then feel much more alert while driving.

Leave your parking lights on and make sure your doors are locked when stopped in a highway rest area. Always switch the engine off and leave the window slightly ajar, to protect yourself against carbon monoxide poisoning. Ideally, you should park your car in a well-lit spot not too far away from other people and vehicles.

Battling fatigue on a long journey

Fatigue is a serious threat on long-distance journeys, especially if you are traveling on a monotonous route involving interstate highways or uninterrupted rural roads. The best protection against drowsy driving on a long trip is a good night’s sleep. Go to bed earlier the day before your journey and do everything you can to ensure you are well-rested.

You can also use these safety tips to combat drowsiness on a long journey:

  1. 1

    Avoid taking medications that can make you feel drowsy on the day of your trip and the night before.

  2. 2

    Do not drive for more than eight hours in a single day.

  3. 3

    Restrict your driving to daylight hours when you are more inclined to be awake and alert.

  4. 4

    Keep in mind that many people feel sleepy after lunch, between 1 pm and 3 pm. If you start to feel drowsy, find a rest area to take a nap.

  5. 5

    Keep your energy levels up by eating small regular meals, preferably while taking a break from driving.

  6. 6

    Avoid big heavy meals unless you are stopping for the day, as overeating can cause feelings of drowsiness.

  7. 7

    If possible, travel with another person and take turns driving.

  8. 8

    Take regular breaks!

This last point is perhaps the most important, yet it is something that most drivers fail to do when traveling long distance. Ideally, you should aim for a break of 10 to 20 minutes every 2 hours. When you stop, get out of your vehicle for some fresh air and walk around a little to wake up your body. You will feel noticeably more alert when you resume driving.

Listening to your body

Drowsy driving is relatively easy to avoid if you pay attention to your mind and body. Look out for subtle changes in your posture – are you starting to slouch in your seat? If so, it might be a good idea to stop and have a rest. Blurred vision is another common sign that fatigue is becoming an issue. Watch out for difficulty focusing while you are scanning the roadway and tension around or behind the eyes. If you are in any doubt as to whether you should keep driving – don’t! The worst thing you can do is ignore the problem and keep going.

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