Whether you are driving to and from work or just driving for fun, staying alert and being safe on the road is a full time responsibility. Concentration is a key element for safe driving and it’s a fact that prolonged periods of concentration causes fatigue. If you think that driver fatigue is just an endurable condition… think again!
Data has shown that being awake for more than 21 hours is equivalent to a Blood Alcohol Level of 0. 08 – The legal limit in many parts of the world. In a recent study, more than 60% of drivers admitted to having driven while feeling drowsy in the past year; 37% admitted to have actually “nodded off” or fell asleep behind the wheel. With more than 100,000 annual accidents linked directly to driver fatigue, this is a serious issue that affects everyone.
One of the many warning signs of driver fatigue is a phenomenon called Micro Sleep. This can occur when we are excessively tired, and we “nod off” a few seconds; your body forces you to sleep for a short time. During episodes of micro sleep, your eyes may remain open but you won’t react to stimulation. You won’t see, for example, that the light is red or if there is a curve ahead.
Do you know when you're driving drowsy? The warning signs of fatigue:
- You can't remember the last few miles driven.
- You hit a rumble strip or drift from your lane.
- Your thoughts are wandering and disconnected.
- You yawn repeatedly.
- You have difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open.
- You tailgate or miss traffic signs.
- You have trouble keeping your head up.
- You keep pulling your vehicle back into the lane.
Risk factors of fatigue
By continuing to fight the urge to rest or sleep, you start to accumulate a “sleep debt.” This can only be compensated for by fulfilling your necessity to sleep. A sleep debt of five hours could have the same effect as two or three glasses of wine. If you have been awake for more than 19 hours when you get behind the wheel, your reaction time becomes 50% slower, thus significantly increasing the likelihood of a fatigue related accident.
Take steps to avoid fatigue
- Plan breaks every two hours to get out of the car: stretch and move around
- When you feel tired, consider taking a nap. Fifteen minutes should be enough to give you a good dose of energy; which will last longer than the one you will get from a coffee, a snack, or opening the window
- If possible, avoid driving during your normal sleep hours.
- Reduce your speed. Driving fast makes you process a lot of information in very little time and can cause faster onset of fatigue.
- Avoid alcohol before driving.
Before a longer road trip, get a good night of sleep of at least eight hours… because, after all, sleep is the only cure against fatigue!