It’s been a long day. You’ve been on a business trip to a major city three states away and your evening flight back was delayed by two hours. Now, as you drive the 50 miles from the airport to your home, you find yourself yawning and struggling to keep your eyes open. And since you want to get to bed as soon as possible, you keep driving.
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Statistics show that might be a bad decision. Drowsy driving is a very real hazard on our roads. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving causes more than 100,000 crashes per year—and, since this type of accident is under-reported, that number might be even higher.
Who Is at Risk?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some drivers might be more likely to drive drowsy. They include:
- Commercial drivers
- People who work a night shift or long hours
- People who don’t get enough sleep
- People with untreated sleep disorders
- People who use certain medications
So, although anyone can become drowsy behind the wheel, drivers in these categories may want to be especially careful.
How to Prevent Drowsy Driving
Whether you belong to a group with higher risk of drowsiness or not, it’s always a good idea to take some preventive measures when you’re planning to hit the road. Here are a few things you can do:
- Catch some Zs. Make sure you always get enough sleep before getting behind the wheel of a car. The National Sleep Foundation says adults need seven to nine hours a night.
- Consider technological aids. Some automakers have created drowsy driving warning systems to alert drivers who may be getting sleepy, by detecting changes in driving styles or the vehicle drifting out of its lane, according to U.S. News and World Report. Some apps have also sought to help with this problem, including an app that periodically emits a loud noise to startle a potentially drowsy driver.
- Take steps to limit the effects of shift work on your sleep. The NHTSA released a brochure for shift workers — those who work overnight or long hours — with some information on how to get more sleep and reduce drowsiness. The tips include setting a bedtime that you stick to every day — even your days off — and taking steps to make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet.
- Plan ahead. If you’re headed somewhere in a different time zone, slowly adapt your body clock for long business trips by gradually adjusting your sleeping times until they’re the same as those at your destination. Or, if you’re planning to leave on a road trip, schedule your sleep so you’re well-rested for your trip.
- Be aware of medical issues. Whether it’s a sleep disorder or a drowsiness-inducing medication, be aware of any medical issues you’re dealing with and adjust your driving habits accordingly. If you don’t know the source of your drowsiness, consult your doctor.
Signs of Drowsiness
Even if you take precautions, it’s important to watch out for the signs of drowsiness when you’re driving — so, if all else fails, you will know how to spot the signs when you need to take a break from driving and go somewhere to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation says that if you experience the following symptoms behind the wheel, it may be time to pull over and rest.
- Heavy eyelids, difficulty focusing and frequent blinking
- Wandering thoughts
- Not remembering driving the last few miles
- Missing traffic signs or exits
- Driving mistakes such as tailgating, hitting a shoulder or drifting from your lane
- Restlessness or irritability
- Finding it difficult to keep your head up
Remember: If you’re sleepy behind the wheel, you’re a risk to yourself and others on the road. So, when you feel your eyelids starting to droop, make the prudent choice and pull over somewhere safe so you can take a nap.