Here's the problem with Nissan's comfy seats, though they do sound delightful. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "Limited evidence suggests that physical discomfort (such as sitting in an uncomfortable seat or position ... ) may also keep sleepy drivers awake." So in other words, the crappy, ripped seats with the sprung springs and the busted armrest in your old jalopy may just save your sleepy life.
So what does work? Only two things: Napping and drinking caffeine. And only one thing will wake your sorry bum up if you do jerk and panic: Rumble strips.
Here is a list of things that DO NOT work for staying awake on a dark desert highway:
- Walking, jogging, doing jumping jacks for a few minutes
- Listening to the radio
- Rolling down the windows
- Talking on a mobile phone (this actually increases the risk of crashing)
- In-car drowsiness alarms
- Alerting devices
The special problem associated with alarms and alerts is that they can give a sleepy driver a false sense of security. You may feel emboldened to drive when you know you're too sleepy because your car is so smart it'll tell you to wake up. Your car is like KITT. You are like the Knight Rider. That should be a drowsiness test in itself: If you're comparing yourself to David Hasselhoff, do not drive.
Author's Note: Can your car keep you from getting tired while driving?
I was surprised to learn, in the course of doing research for this article, that being uncomfortable -- even shivering or sweating -- will keep you more alert and attentive than a comfy seat. It makes sense, when you think about it, but at the same time, we still want that comfy seat. Who wants to drive cross-country with a leg that's fallen asleep or a knot between their shoulder blades? I'm sure it would keep me awake, but it sounds miserable.
The other thing I pondered while writing this article is that comfort over long driving distances seems like it may be more of an American problem. How far do people typically drive in Japan, or England or Lichtenstein? Granted, the average American only drives about 40 miles a day, but I'm not so sure other countries have the same romantic relationship we do with the road trip. Why bother developing a comfy car seat when people can just take a high-speed train?
- Brockman, Brian. Corporate communications manager at Nissan. E-mail interview, conducted on Oct. 31, 2012.
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. "Driver Fatigue." USDOT. (Oct. 31, 2012) http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/about/outreach/education/driverTips/Driver-fatigue.htm
- Hicks, Jennifer. "Sensors to Detect Driver's Fatigue." Forbes.com. Oct. 29, 2012. (Oct. 31, 2012) http://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferhicks/2012/10/29/sensors-to-detect-drivers-fatigue/
- NHTSA. "Drowsy Driving and Automobile Crashes." National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (Oct. 31, 2012) http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/drowsy_driving1/drowsy.html
- Nissan (press release). "Comfort Zone: Seat Technology Aims to Cut Fatigue." Nissan News. Oct. 22, 2012. (Oct. 31, 2012) http://nissannews.com/en-US/nissan/usa/releases/comfort-zone-seat-technology-aims-to-cut-fatigue