Avoiding Drowsy Driving

How can you avoid becoming a drowsy driver? There are a number of measures you can take to reduce the risk to yourself and others.

  1. First, always try to make sure you get a good night’s rest, so you won’t be tired when driving during the day. You should try to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per day.
  2. If you take medications, read the warning labels on those medications. Some carry a risk of making you drowsy. If you use such a medication talk to your doctor about alternatives that may not make you drowsy, or try to find someone else who can do the driving.
  3. Alcohol is worse than you think. While you have heard not to drink and drive, some people think a drink or two won’t hurt, and that it’s alright as long as they are not drunk. However, alcohol can also make you tired, and while that one or two drinks may not create a drunk driver, they can exacerbate the effects of drowsiness.
  4. If you are heading out on a long drive, make sure to schedule regular breaks. Give your body a chance to get out of the car and get the blood flowing so you are less likely to grow lethargic and tired. Sleepiness can creep up on you quickly, so you should make it a habit to stop every 150 miles or so. Before you leave the house, you may want to use an online mapping program to find good stops along the path you will be taking. If you do notice you are getting tired, you need to stop and take a nap. The body responds well to napping, so just a short sleep break of 15 to 30 minutes should be enough to get you safely on your way again. Don’t sleep longer than that. Longer naps actually can make you more tired and make driving even more dangerous.
  5. Share the driving. Try not to make these long drives alone. The other person can also be watching for signs that you are getting sleepy and let you know it’s time to get out of the driver’s seat.
  6.  Time your driving for when you will be awake.. The rate of accidents through the day corresponds to some ectent with the circadian cycle.

Sleep Driving

There is also the more dangerous "sleep driving". Sleep driving is defined as driving while not fully awake after ingestion of a sedative-hypnotic medication. The Z-drugs seem particularly notorious at inducing sleep driving. (Sleep driving is not a type of sleep walking.)

Public Awareness Campaigns

Most car crashes in the United States do not involve alcohol. Most people in car crashes are wearing seat belts. While in recent decades awareness of the dangers of alcohol and the need to buckle-up have become raised in the public mind, drowsy driving remains an underappreciated danger. At Sleepdex, we want to encourage more attention to this hazard.

A Harvard researcher called drowsy driving an epidemic. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3190420/

While government agencies and advocacy organizations do raise the topic of drowsy driving and try to educate motorists, we believe more can be done. The success in raising awareness about drunk driving should be an inspiration when it comes to pushing for more and bigger awareness of drowsy driving risks.

Why is New Jersey the only state with a law explicitly naming drowsy driving as illegal? We know police can get drowsy drivers on reckless driving charges, but a law about drowsy driving would make it easier for prosecutors to get convictions, might make police more likely to keep an eye out for sleepy drivers, and could spark more concern among the general public. Stopping drowsy driving before it happens is the best response, whether this means keeping a tired people out of the driver’s seat or getting all drivers to get a good night’s sleep before embarking on a trip.

The federal government's "Healthy People" initiative aims to reduce the rate of car crashes due to sleepiness.

Technological Responses

There’s hype about self-driving cars, and as far as we are concerned, they can’t get here fast enough. With proper safety systems, self-driving cars promise to lower accident, injury, and fatality rates. Computers may occasionally screw up, but at least they don’t get sleepy.

In the meantime some newer cars are incorporating systems that try to detect driver drowsiness and issue a warning. We have not found data on the efficacy of these devices, but the idea is a great one.

Dubious Tactics

Some people say caffeine will keep them going. Others employ tricks such as having a cigarette when they get tired, opening the window, or turning the radio up.

Caffeine can mitigate the effects of sleepiness, but it takes some time to kick in. If you are already tired when you first drink it, it may not help in time. Also, if you are a regular coffee or soda drinker, you have likely built a tolerance and the effect will likely be much smaller and will not last as long as you think.

While taking in some nicotine can produce a slight improvement in driving performance for a short time, the effects are not enough to overcome sleepiness.

Many believe distractions will help them stay awake so they turn the radio up loud or open a window, hoping the rush of wind will keep them awake. Once again, these will have a short-term effect, but a tired body is still a tired body.

Rumble strips on the highways can also help alert drowsy drivers once they start drifting out of their lanes.

The NHTSA's expert panel report on driver fatigue and sleepiness




The Sleepdex book is now available on Amazon.com.

Click here