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 a quarter (25%) of all motor vehicle fatalities are due to people falling asleep at the wheel of their car. People who are planning a long road trip this spring or summer will know that, at some point, they’ll have to grapple with the fatigue that inevitably occurs when driving for many hours in a row. If not managed, this fatigue and sleepiness can become a real problem and potentially dangerous. Here are 10 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. All of us perk up when a song we like comes on the radio. But after a long period, music has an ability to lull people into a trance and make them sleepy. After a while, many people don’t even hear the music as they begin to nod off. To avoid this, experts recommend tuning your car to a talk radio format such as National Public Radio, 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 in the background. 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 and tune into a talk radio show that will peak your interest and get you feeling alert again.
9. Keep the Temperature in the Car Cool
Almost every car today is equipped with air conditioning. Use it. Put the temperature in the car a few degrees lower than you would normally have it and this will help you stay frosty and alert. We’re not recommending putting the temperature so low that your teeth are chattering or you have goose bumps, but put it low enough so that you feel the chill and the cool temperature keeps you awake and focused. Lowering the air conditioning once 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 sleepy. So lower the air conditioning 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 the car seat you’re using in a new or unusual position. This will take you out of the comfort zone you’re used to when driving and 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. 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 sitting down in the car is like sliding into a comfortable La-Z-Boy chair in the rec room of our house. 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 behind the wheel of the car. And this can lead to fatigue quickly setting in. The activity of using your feet on the gas pedal and brake helps keep drivers awake, after all. Without it, there is not 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 and the endless white slashes of paint that pass by, separating your lane from the next. It will not be long before you’ll be counting sheep. Best to keep the cruise control off when sleepy 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. But eating comes with a few caveats. First, eat healthy snacks and avoid sugar. This is because sugar can lead to highs, 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—healthy food and a little at a time. 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 a spouse, family member or friend. The buddy system can be one of the very best ways to stay awake, engaged and interested when driving. Not only can another person in the car let you know when you begin to look tired, they can also relieve you and continue driving while you rest. And, of course, a buddy in the car is someone to have a conversation with, which, in itself, 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 and what’s happening with traffic and other vehicles 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 air in the face is enough to wake many people up, as is the loud sound that comes with opening a window while driving down a highway. Opening the windows 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, as this 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, this is not 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. But playing some mental and physical games with yourself while on a long haul drive can help to keep your mind sharp and attentive. 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 within reason too, such as keeping one hand raised in the air, clenching the steering wheel really hard and 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 too can be helpful when it comes to staying awake while driving.
2. Drink Caffeine (In Moderation)
Caffeinated drinks—whether coffee, tea, soft drinks or energy drinks—can be helpful in moderation. However, like sugar, caffeine can lead to people crashing and becoming more tired than before they had a caffeine jolt. Have a coffee or other caffeinated beverage sparingly. Once every four hours or longer is recommended. Any more than that and you risk turning into a zombie behind the wheel of your car or crashing out horribly and falling asleep behind the wheel. And, if you can stand it, try and drink the coffee straight black without any cream or sugar in it. Loading your coffee 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.
1. Stop, Stretch, Take a Nap
There’s a reason you see more rest stops along state and provincial highways in the U.S. and Canada 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 really tired, pull over and take a nap for an hour. 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 of the rest stops on today’s highways also feature playgrounds for kids and picnic tables where people can eat while they recharge. We know everyone is in a hurry these days, but taking a break and getting some rest, even if it adds time to your itinerary, can be the best thing for a road-weary driver.