Falling Asleep at the Wheel? Learn to Combat Driving Fatigue

Drowsy drivers are a danger to themselves as well as others on the road. According to the CDC, the problem has reached alarming proportions. The dangerous combination of fatigue, drowsiness, and driving often ends tragically.

Sleeping and drivingWhen questioned, 1 in 25 drivers reported falling asleep at the wheel of a motor vehicle at least once within the preceding month. Data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that driving fatigue and drowsy drivers are responsible for 100,000 accidents and 1,500 deaths every year. However, many experts believe these numbers may be a gross under-estimation.

Thousands of motor vehicle accidents are the result of a sleepy driver who wasn’t paying attention, had a delayed reaction time, or had an impaired ability to make decisions on the road.

Who is at risk of drowsy driving?

Anyone call fall asleep at the wheel, but some people are more likely to drive when sleepy:

  • People who are sleep deprived (most adults need 7 hours of sleep every night to feel rested and alert)
  • Shift workers or people who work long hours at a stretch
  • Commercial truck drivers who spend long hours alone on the road
  • People with medical conditions such as sleep apnea
  • People taking medications that produce drowsiness as a side effect
  • Young men in their teens or early 20s
  • Nighttime drivers who are on the road between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m.

How to tell if a driver is sleep deprived?

Here are some warning signs of drowsiness:

  • Frequent blinking or yawning
  • Trouble with keeping the eyes open
  • Nodding off or slumping of the head
  • Confusion about the number of miles driven
  • Drifting into adjacent lanes
  • Passing too close to other cars
  • Missing exits or road signs
  • Hitting the rumble strips on the shoulder of the road

What can I do to prevent drowsy driving?

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine lists a number of preventive measures to avoid drowsy driving. In addition, drivers with long commutes or people undertaking long road trips can do some simple fatigue-busting exercises in the car to stay safe (and get fit in the bargain!) Do these exercises only when the vehicle is stopped.

  • Pull your belly button backward (towards your spine) so that the lower part of your tummy pulls away from your waistband. Hold for a count of 5.
  • Grab the steering wheel at the 10 and 2 o’clock positions and pull on it while you rotate your trunk to one side. This stretches the mid back and area between the shoulder blades.
  • Tilt your head down so that the right ear touches your right shoulder, stretching the opposite side of your neck. Hold for a count of 5, alternate with the other side, and repeat a few times.
  • Look to one side, hold for a count of 5, then look to the other side.
  • Bring your chin to your chest to stretch the back of your neck, hold for a count of 5, and repeat a few times.
  • Shift your body weight onto one buttock to relieve pressure on the other buttock. Alternate and repeat a few times.
  • Roll your bottom forward to arch the small of your back and relieve stiffness.
  • Stop, get out of your car or truck, and stretch your whole body.

You can combat driving fatigue. The next time you’re on a long road trip, make sure you switch places and let someone else drive for a while. Stay well fed and well hydrated. Listen to music, talk to others in the car, and play games with your passengers – anything to stay mentally engaged. Last but not the least, get enough sleep!

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