Unbelievable Tales From the Road
Like the truck driver who drove twice around the 53 mile Indy loop known as “The Circle,” before his wife noticed he had already passed the same landmarks. Or the lore, oft-told, of drivers finding themselves in another city or state, sometimes hundreds of miles away, having no idea how they got there, in a sleep-deprived stupor . . .
No one really knows how many crashes are due to driving while drowsy. In the photo above, taken earlier this year, the driver admitted he knew he was tired when he was heading south on I-95, but he pressed on anyway.
“I thought I could make it down to the truck stops in Kenly, and I didn’t quite make it. I kind of drowsed off, and next thing I knew, I had taken out the guardrail.”
Drowsy Drivers are Dangerous Drivers.
Drowsiness is the state before sleep. Sleepiness decreases our judgment and increases risk taking, key elements of safe driving
Drowsy driving accidents usually involve only one vehicle and the injuries tend to be serious or fatal. There are no skid marks or evidence of other evasive maneuvers at the drowsy driving crash scene. Vehicles driven by a drowsy driver may hit another vehicle or a fixed object at full speed.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) says more than half of drivers have driven while drowsy and 20 percent to 30 percent have fallen asleep at the wheel. Young adults are particularly at risk: the peak age for drowsy driving crashes is 20 years old.
Signs of Drowsiness
By the time a driver realizes he or she may be drowsy, they may have already have nodded off with a two-to-three second long ‘micro-sleep’ at the wheel. These are some of the signs of driving drowsy:
- Slow blinking
- Heavy eyelids
- Constant yawning
- Missing street signs
- Drifting between lanes
- Eyes going out of focus
- Feeling restless and irritable
- Struggling to hold your head up
- Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts
- Not being able to remember the last few minutes of travel
A drowsy driver needs to immediately get off of the road.
Being drowsy or sleepy may be a symptom of fatigue, but it is not really the same thing. Fatigue is sometimes caused by common lifestyle causes, such as lack of rest, poor eating habits or stress. Fatigue can also be caused by medical issues and conditions ranging from mild to serious, or even disorders as anxiety and depression. Feeling fatigued might be similar to feeling tired, exhausted or low in energy, but often does not result in sleep or sleepiness.
Drowsy drivers are in the stage right before sleep and are at risk of falling asleep.
“Most people don’t realize that part of the brain can be asleep while another part of the brain is awake.” Dr. Charles Czeisler
You Can’t Fight Sleep
You’ve heard all the tricks: caffeinated or energy drinks, caffeine pills, vitamin drinks, turning the heat down, rolling down the windows, turning the music up, etc. While caffeine may help a little in the short term, most of the quick tricks to fight sleep simply do not work.
The National Sleep Foundation says the best way to make sure your mind and body are in optimal driving shape is to plan ahead and get 7-8 hours of sleep before driving. Proper pre-trip rest is essential.
- The pre-drive nap: taking a short nap before a road trip can help make up for a short night’s sleep.
- The mid-drive nap: if you find yourself drowsy while driving, pull over to take a short nap of 20 minutes. Make sure you are in a safe location and remember you’ll be groggy for 15 minutes or so after waking up.
- The Buddy system: It’s safest to drive with a partner on long trips. Pull over and switch drivers, while the other takes a nap, if possible.
- Don’t rush. Better to arrive at your destination safe than on time.
- Do not drink alcohol. Even very small amounts of alcohol will enhance drowsiness.
- Don’t drive between midnight and 6 AM. Because of your body’s biological rhythm, this is a time when sleepiness is most intense.
- Drink some caffeine: caffeine improves alertness, although be aware that the effects of caffeine will wear off after several hours. (National Sleep Foundation)
Drivers need to get rest before driving and need to know the signs of drowsy driving.
It is illegal for a truck driver to drive while tired (impaired by fatigue) or ill. (49 CFR §392.3: Ill or fatigued operator — 10 CSA Violation Severity Points)
Organizations and motor carriers need a clear, explicit policy on driving while drowsy, ill, or fatigued.
Organizations should conduct periodic driver training on preventing driving while drowsy.
Thank you for reading this. Many more thanks for helping to spread the word.