According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, about half of all motor vehicle accidents are the result of driver fatigue. Some statistical agencies estimate that 25% of all motor vehicle fatalities are due to people falling asleep at the wheel of their car. Anyone who has been on a long road trip will know that, at some point, they’ll have to grapple with being tired. Fatigue will inevitably occur when driving for many hours in a row, especially at night when the eyes are more strained. If not managed, this fatigue can become a real problem and potentially be very dangerous. Here are ten tips for avoiding, or combating, driver fatigue.
10. Listen to Talk Radio Rather Than Music
Hearing your favorite song blast from the car stereo can be a real pick-me-up. We all perk up when a rockin’ beat comes on the radio. However, music actually has the ability to lull people into a trance after a while. The hypnotic background noise can make you sleep. After a while, you don’t even hear the music as you start to nod off.
To avoid this, experts recommend tuning your car to a talk radio format such as NPR, CNN, or a sports talk show. People are more likely to stay engaged and attentive when following a conversation than when they are hearing music. Of course, it will help if the topic being discussed on the radio is one that you’re interested in and have an opinion about. So take a break from the music. Tune into a talk radio show (or keep some podcasts handy) that will peak your interest and get you feeling alert again.
9. Keep the Temperature in the Car Cool
Almost every car these days is equipped with air conditioning. So use it. Setting the temperature in the car a few degrees lower than you would normally have it helps you stay frosty and alert. We’re not recommending putting the temperature so low that your teeth are chattering or you have goose bumps. Just set it low enough so that you feel the chill. The cool temperature keeps you awake and focused.
Cranking the air conditioning when you feel tired is a great way to give yourself a jolt and to freshen up. Warm temperatures tend to make people feel lethargic, lazy, and more sleepy. So lower the temperature and give yourself a refreshing startle that will keep your eyes trained on the road ahead.
8. Place the Car Seat in a New Position
In the same vein of trying to keep yourself uncomfortable and awake, try placing your car seat in a new or unusual position. This will take you out of the comfort zone you’re used to. It should help ward off the fatigue that inevitably sets in on a long road trip.
Lean the back of the chair forward more than usual, raise the bottom of the seat until it lifts your bum up to a new level, or slide the seat back so you have to stretch your legs out more than normal. Get that blood flowing! Any and all of these positions can help to keep drivers attentive.
Most of us are so used to the position of our car seat that it’s like sliding into a comfortable La-Z-Boy chair in the living room. It doesn’t take long for us to become so comfortable that we begin to get sleepy. Adjusting the seat to an alternate position will take you into a new realm where you’ll feel different and are more aware of your surroundings as a result.
7. Don’t Use Cruise Control
Cruise control can be your friend on a long drive, but not when you’re tired. Using cruise control means that you’re not doing anything with your feet while driving. This can lead to fatigue quickly setting in. The activity of using your feet on the pedals helps keep you awake. Without it, there isn’t much to do but keep one hand on the steering wheel and stare out at a straight stretch of highway that seems to go on forever.
You will soon me lulled by the endless white slashes of paint that pass by, separating your lane from the next. It won’t be long before you’re counting sheep. Best to keep the cruise control off if you’re feeling drowsy while driving. Keep those feet moving and it will help to keep your eyes open and your brain working.
6. Eat Healthy Snacks and Avoid Sugar
Eating is another activity that can help to keep people awake when driving. However, eating comes with a few caveats. First, eat healthy snacks and avoid sugar. This is because sugar can lead to short highs, and then lows and crashes. Also, eat crunchy foods such as apples and carrot sticks. The “crunch” sound helps to keep people psychologically engaged and attuned to their surroundings.
Hard candies that you can suck on, nuts and sunflower seeds are also good. Lastly, eat slowly. Don’t binge eat and then feel bloated, heavy, and sleepy. Rather, take your time, eat slowly and deliberately, and make the snacks last. Thoughtful and measured snacking can be a great way to keep awake on a long trip. But be sure to do it right. Stick to healthy food, and only eat a little at a time. Also make sure that whatever you’re snacking on doesn’t hinder your driving ability. Slow and steady eating wins the race.
5. Use the Buddy System
It’s difficult to fall asleep when engaged in a lively discussion with another person. When driving far, it is always advisable to take the trip with at least one other person. Whether it’s a spouse, family member, or friend, the dialogue can help keep you alert. The buddy system is one of the very best ways to stay awake, engaged, and interested when driving.
Not only can another person let you know when you begin to look tired, they can also relieve you behind the wheel. Driving in shifts makes a lot of sense for long trips. Of course, a buddy in the car is also just someone to have a conversation with. That alone can help to keep you upbeat and upright. Just be sure that you’re not so busy talking that you lose sight of the road or what’s happening with traffic around you.
4. Roll Down the Window
Rolling down the window of a car can provide a great boost to sleepy drivers. The rush of fresh air in the face is enough to wake anyone up. So too is the loud sound that comes with opening a window while driving down a highway. Cracking open the window is also a great way to lower the temperature in a car, which helps to keep people on their toes.
However, don’t keep the window open too long. That can lead to drivers becoming accustomed to the wind and noise. Rather, open the window periodically in short bursts to give yourself the jolt you need to stay focused on the task at hand — arriving safely at your destination. For added effect, you can also open the sunroof in your car, if you have one. Of course, these tips are less advisable in winter. But during the summer, opening a window or the sunroof can be a great way to cool off and refresh yourself.
3. Play Mental and Physical Games With Yourself
Don’t get so carried away with this suggestion that you cause an accident. That being said, playing some mental and physical games with yourself while on a long haul can help to keep your mind sharp. These games could include things such as doing multiplication and division out loud, adding or subtracting numbers in your head, memorizing some useful information, trying to remember old telephone numbers you once had, or looking for certain makes and models of vehicles on the highway.
You can also do physical things too, within reason. Simple tasks like keeping one hand raised in the air, clenching the steering wheel really hard for five seconds at a time, or shifting your position and posture. Of course, when all else fails, you can always slap yourself or scream at the top of your lungs. Those actions will cause the body to release a short burst of adrenaline.
2. Drink Caffeine (In Moderation)
Caffeinated drinks of your choosing can be helpful in moderation. However, just like sugar, caffeine can lead to an eventual crash. You might become more tired than before. You should use caffeine sparingly while driving, only once every four to six hours. Any more than that and you risk turning into a zombie behind the wheel.
If you can stand it, try and drink that coffee straight black, without any cream or sugar in it. Or opt for a sugar free energy drink. Loading your beverage up with a lot of sugar will only cause problems in the long run. Using caffeine in moderation can help. Just don’t overdo it. If you find yourself desperate for another cup of joe too quickly, there’s only one reasonable option left.
1. Stop, Stretch, Take a Nap
There’s a reason you see more rest stops along North American highways these days. Rest stops are the best way to keep drivers alert and ward off fatigue. Taking time out of your trip to stop, get out of the car, use the bathroom, and stretch is the very best thing you can do for yourself on a long drive.
If you’re really tired, pull over and take a short nap. Even a 30-minute power nap can do wonders for most people and get them back on the road feeling rested, refreshed, and ready to go. Many modern rest stops also feature amenities like restaurants, playgrounds for the kids, and picnic tables to sit down and get some fresh air. Some even include showers, which are another great way to feel refreshed. We know everyone is in a hurry these days, but taking a break and getting some rest can be the best thing for a road-weary driver. Even if it eats into your itinerary, it’s better to arrive late than to not arrive at all.