Countermeasures for Drowsy Driving

Some ideas and tips.

Get Some Sleep

It’s worth saying again. The best advice way to deal with drowsy driving is to avoid it by simply to get enough sleep in advance of getting in the car. Know your body and how much you need to be your best.

Bring a Friend

Combat the boredom of the road with a driving companion, and better yet, switch driving responsibilities with that companion every now and again. The change will do you good. UCLA reports that 82% of known drowsy driving incidents involve a car with only one occupant.

Use the Rest Stops

Take a break. Take a walk. Do some stretching. Breathe some fresh air and get a cup of coffee.

Stop and Take a Nap

Finding a safe place to sleep for 15 to 20 minutes in the middle of a long drive can provide temporary refreshment. Naps work. Studies have repeatedly shown performance increases after a nap. Do not jump right back onto the road after you wake up, however, as your body will need a few minutes to bring itself all the way out of sleep. In fact, one of the most recommended tricks for maintaining alertness is to drink a cup of coffee just before a nap, the so-called caffeine nap. The caffeine will take 15-30 minutes to kick in, during which time you grab some shuteye, then the stimulant brings you back to alertness with the double benefit of sleep and caffeine. A study completed at the University of Loughborough in the United Kingdom discovered that this combination reduced highway incidents by a factor of four.

Caffeine

You can find it in more than just coffee. Tea and some sodas (especially colas) can give you an added burst of pharmacological alertness. Don’t rely too much on caffeinated drinks – they are no replacement for adequate sleep. Snacks can be good too. Not only do they occupy your mouth and hands, but they also provide the fuel for your fire, giving you energy enough to maintain wakefulness. Or try chewing gum, if you’re not hungry, to give your body something to do.

A recent study published in the journal Sleep found that caffeine was better than a nap in increasing driving skills in drowsy people. (A full night's sleep is the best, of course.)

Fresh Air

Extra carbon dioxide makes you sleepy and stuffy cars have more carbon dioxide than the outside air. Opening the car windows or adjusting the vent controls to bring in more outside air can lower carbon dioxide levels and reduce the risk of drowsiness.

Radio or Recorded Music

Another old standby is the radio or music you have on board the car. Try energetic music.

While the Sun Shines

If possible, drive during the daylight hours. Your natural circadian rhythms will keep you more alert during the day than at night. Additionally, the light provides more stimulation to your brain, gives you an extended response time for any problems you might see up ahead, and gives you more options for safe places to pull over and regularly get out of the car.

People traveling long distances often choose to go at night in hopes of avoiding traffic. Statistics show most drowsy driving accidents happen between midnight and 8 AM.

Mind Games

Just as with the radio, you do not want to occupy your mind so much as to divert it from the hazards of the road, but a mental game or goal-setting can keep your mind active in general so that it is also alert enough for the road. Go back to the games of childhood road trips to play I Spy or the alphabet game. Also, you might take a tip from endurance athletes and continually set yourself achievable goals. Some marathon athletes keep their minds on the obstacles and goals nearer them—rounding the next bend or getting over the next hill. Each smaller accomplishment gets them closer to that finish line and distracts them from the difficulties lying ahead. In the same way, it might seem impossible to stay awake all the way to your destination, but reaching the next mile marker along the side of the road is certainly possible, and after that you will be able to make it to the next deer crossing sign and then just up over the next rise. Breaking a large trip down into smaller parts not only makes the task seem easier, but it occupies the mind and keeps it alert.

Technological Help

Inventors are trying to develop automated systems to detect drowsy driving and alert the driver. New technological devices are in development and some high-end cars are being manufactured with them.

References

The Sleepdex book is now available on Amazon.com.

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