Stay Alert and Sober

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Stay Alert and Sober
Lay Down Your Gadgets

Some studies suggest that distracted driving activities, such as talking on cell phones or texting, are even more dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol. Hands-free headsets and speech-recognition devices may help, but the stats and stories of accident victims strongly support a zero-use policy on communication devices while you're actually driving.

Sure, you have to watch out for drunks and wannabe "Fast and the Furious" extras at night. But you might actually be your own worst enemy. That's because we all operate by a circadian rhythm, which regulates our daily activity levels. Research has shown spikes in the number of car accidents to coincide roughly with the ebbs of the circadian cycle -- early morning, when most people are asleep or just waking up, and early afternoon [source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration].

So before driving at night, avoid taking medications that make you drowsy. Even what you eat has as influence. Eat foods that are high in protein rather than ones high in carbohydrates, which are more likely to make you sleepy [source: National Sleep Foundation]. Also try to make sure you're adequately rested before you drive at night. Prior sleep deprivation is usually a culprit in drowsy driving accidents.

Some people avoid coffee and other caffeine products as a matter of principle or for health reasons. But research shows that drinking the equivalent of two cups of coffee can stave off a "sleep attack" for up to an hour.

It's also a good idea to have someone else in the car with you, if possible. They can help you to stay awake with conversation or, at the very least, share the driving duties. The numbers tell the story on this one -- drive with a buddy and you're less likely to crash and die [source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration].

No article on driving safety would be complete without mentioning alcohol. By now, everybody knows how badly alcohol impairs driving ability, so we'll spare you the sermon. Do realize, however, that other people will get boozed up and jump behind the wheel at night -- putting you in potential danger should you be unfortunate enough to cross their drunken path.

Crashes involving alcohol are more likely to occur at night and on weekends than at any other times. In fact, 77-percent of all alcohol-related crashes occur between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. [source: Hingson and Winter].

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