Wellness: Prevention

Stay Awake Behind the Wheel

Would you ride in a car with a driver who’s been drinking alcohol? No way.

How about riding with someone who just pulled an all-nighter? If you’re not sure, consider this: Every year, sleepy drivers cause about 100,000 automobile accidents in the United States. According to a recent poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 60 percent of Americans have driven while drowsy in the past year.

You may believe that you can stop yourself from falling asleep, but you can’t. You may not even know you’ve dozed off. This is more likely to happen if you’re sleep-deprived, driving long distances without rest breaks, traveling at night, driving alone, riding long rural highways, taking medication that causes sleepiness, or drinking alcohol.

How to stay alert

Try these tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

  • Never drink and drive. Alcohol impairs your driving ability and worsens fatigue. It's also illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol.

  • If possible, don’t drive long distances alone. If you have a companion on your drive, you’ll have someone to talk with, and you can take turns driving.

  • Get enough shut-eye. You’re more likely to nod off at the wheel if you have slept for less than eight hours the night before.

  • Don’t begin a trip so late that you’re driving when you usually sleep. Start when you’re fresh and alert.

  • Watch your posture. Hold your head up and don’t slouch.

  • Take a break at least every two hours. Stop in a place that is safe and well-populated to walk around and stretch.

  • Have two cups of a caffeinated drink, such as coffee, if you can have caffeine.

Signs of sleepiness

You may be about to doze off if you:

  • Can’t remember the last few miles you drove.

  • Experience wandering or disconnected thoughts.

  • Have difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open.

  • Have trouble keeping your head up.

  • Drift from your lane or hit a rumble strip.

  • Yawn repeatedly.

In these cases, it’s imperative to pull over to a safe place. Turn off your car, lock your doors and nap for 15 to 20 minutes in a busy, well-lit rest area or truck stop. You’ll wake up refreshed and ready to reach your destination safely.

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