Driving while overtired is linked to a significant number of vehicle accidents. According to the Health Navigator, in the year 2015 in New Zealand, drowsiness was found to be a contributing factor in accidents leading to 45 deaths, 167 serious injuries, and 622 minor injuries. Most accidents occur on trips that are less than 2 hours long, and within 20 minutes of home.
According to the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine, people overestimate their alertness level, and there’s no official way to test for driver drowsiness. It’s important to consider how sleepy you really are before getting behind the wheel of a car.
When am I most at risk?
All drivers who get behind the wheel while fatigued are at risk of being involved in an accident.
However, certain factors can increase the likelihood of an accident – if you’re young, if you work shifts, or if you have a sleep disorder. If you’ve consumed alcohol – even if under the legal limit – you are also at risk. Speed also plays a factor in many fatigue-related accidents.
Look for these signs that you’re too drowsy to drive:
- Struggling to keep your eyes open.
- Feeling sluggish.
- Mind wandering from the road or conversations in the car.
- Getting angry and irritable.
- Experiencing micro-sleep – where your brain checks out for a few seconds.
- Feeling restless and jumpy.
- Erratic speed, or drifting over the lines.
- Missing road signs or lights – a lapse in attention.
- Rubbing your eyes.
What to do if you’re feeling sleepy at the wheel?
- Pull over to a safe place as quickly as possible.
- Move to a passenger seat. Lock the doors and roll up windows. Set the alarm on your phone for 20 minutes, and take a power-nap.
- After you wake up, wait for at least ten minutes before starting the car. Walk around outside for a bit to get your blood flowing and help you wake up.
- IMPORTANT: Don’t oversleep. If you sleep for longer than 40 minutes, you’ll feel ever more fatigued when you wake up.
How to prevent yourself getting sleepy?
Good planning will help you avoid driving while fatigued. Remember to:
- Plan your car trips – make sure you get a good sleep before a long journey, leave at a time of day when you feel awake and alert and give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination.
- Break up long journeys with breaks and overnight stays.
- Don’t drive when you would usually be sleeping, and if you’re travelling overseas, don’t drive while you’re jetlagged.
- Eat light, healthy food that’s full of energy. Try to avoid too many carbs and sugary snacks that will give you a dip in energy later.
- Drink plenty of water!
- Wind down the window and get fresh air circulating in the car.
- Use music or conversation with passengers to pass the time and keep you energised and alert.
- Be careful of medications that can make you drowsy.
- If possible, share driving on long journeys.
Are you ready for a long-haul drive or to get home safely? Teach your family and friends how to avoid the perils of driving while sleepy.