It has been a long day and you still have the drive home to get through. Are you too tired to get behind the wheel safely?
Drowsy driving lacks the connotation of irresponsibility associated with activities such as texting while driving or becoming intoxicated. However, its effects can be the same, with the same serious results.
Knowing the warning signs of drowsy driving
The first step in avoiding drowsy driving is learning to recognize the signs that your fatigue levels are too high for safety. Common signs include finding yourself blinking often, a sensation of heaviness in the eyelids or difficulty concentrating. You may find your mind drifting off instead of focusing on the road, to the extent that you begin missing exits. If you catch yourself drifting out of your lane or onto the shoulder, you are well into the danger zone.
Drowsiness is dangerous even if you do not fall asleep
These signs of drowsy driving begin long before you actually fall asleep at the wheel. Difficulty paying attention slows your reaction time, blunts your judgment and may lead to overlooking potential hazards. Driving safely means remaining alert at all times and making quick decisions; a sleepy brain simply cannot handle these tasks.
How to avoid drowsy driving
If you happen to be a bit short on sleep and feeling somewhat drowsy, taking a short nap before you set out can refresh you enough for the trip home. Caffeine can also help, though its effects wear off over time. If you feel yourself getting tired during the drive, the safest thing to do is to pull over when possible and take a nap.
Some things may increase the effects of fatigue. Avoid drinking alcohol, even in small amounts below the legal limit that would not otherwise impair you. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can make you drowsy; be sure to check labels for side effects before taking anything prior to driving.
Long trips are more likely to be tiring. Advance planning can help you avoid some pitfalls. If possible, travel with another person who can take turns with you at the wheel. You should also avoid driving between midnight and 6 a.m., as your body’s natural cycles tend to increase sleepiness during this time.