Why Drowsy Driving is Dangerous and 10 Ways to Help Prevent It
We’ve all had times where we almost fell asleep at the wheel. Maybe it happened at an intersection or worse, while cruising along a freeway, perhaps, on the verge of swerving into the next lane. If you remember a time where you nodded off while driving, you probably woke up as your head nodded or to the honking of a horn. A near miss. We often giggle at drowsy driving stories – especially since we often arrive in one piece – but they illustrate a serious problem many people face today. Keep in mind too, that a pattern of falling asleep while driving may someday lead to a tragic outcome if you can’t find a way to stay awake. That’s why it’s vital for you to tackle drowsy driving to stay safe on the roads.
Sleep Deprivation Does Numbers on Drivers
Drowsy driving has turned into a pandemic. Millions of people around the world drive from point A to B, yawning and fighting to keep their eyes open. While sleepiness behind the wheel is normal at times, drivers who regularly fall asleep on the road are a major danger to themselves and others.
Experts agree drowsy driving and drunk driving are equally dangerous. And they both share a common factor: those who are sleepy or intoxicated are overconfident in their driving abilities when they’re not fully awake. If you’ve ever driven with someone who’s sleepy and you tell them to pull over, they may have given you a knuckleheaded response such as, “I’m fine, just sleepy”.
Sleepy Driving Statistics
- Drivers under 25 are more likely to suffer drowsiness behind the wheel
- Staying awake for 18 hours impairs you as much as a driver with a .05 BAC
- Staying awake for 21 hours impairs you as much as a driver with a .08 BAC
- Experts say 20% of car accidents in Canada are the result of sleep deprivation
- Sleepy people are more likely to drive aggressively, maintain inconsistent speeds and ignore road signs/traffic lights
Triggers for Driver KO
The most obvious reason why people fall asleep while driving stems from sleep deprivation. For some people, losing just an hour or two of sleep is enough to cause profound drowsiness, slower reaction time and attention deficits. That’s why it’s a no brainer to sleep adequately every night. Many people also suffer from sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, insomnia and narcolepsy, all of which make a person accident prone if they are not treated. However, there are other reasons why people are crashing behind the wheel. Modern technology and society has a lot to do with it, making things even harder for those already struggling to get enough shut-eye.
You’ve most likely seen those dreamy ads where green moths land on peoples noses, putting them to sleep. It’s a strong hook for those with insomnia and other sleep disorders, but the benefits of these drugs come with a side-serving of risks. In fact, scientists have warned that sleeping pills, in addition to antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are leading to hordes of drivers who get behind the wheel intoxicated. Drowsiness and fatigue are common side effects mentioned on the labels and in the ads of these drugs. If you’re taking this medication, it’s extremely important you follow the recommended dosages and engage in demanding tasks only when you’re most awake.
Burnout & Mental Health Issues
Mental illness, stress and burnout is on the rise. Experts predict 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from a bout of mental illness at some point in their lifetime. The numbers are even more staggering among young adults. A faster pace of life, longer hours at work, shift work and heavier demands placed on employees are all contributors. Take for example, an individual suffering from depression. Although they may find themselves sleeping too much, they may still feel drained due to a low mood. Everyday tasks become a burden, and the act of driving a car – which taxes cognition – can turn into an exhausting activity. It is not uncommon to find depressed or burnout drivers nodding away when the lulls of driving set in.
Poor Nutrition & LIfestyle
Another tragedy of modern living are unhealthy lifestyles. For many people, their day begins without breakfast, relying on coffee to get them through the morning (especially if they’re sleep deprived). Hours later, when their blood sugar has plummeted, they may eat a greasy lunch that temporarily peps them up, only to result in a crash later on. To make matters worse, many of these individuals don’t exercise regularly or skip on it altogether. This combination of poor diet and little or no exercise often results in low energy levels. Sitting behind the wheel with a low energy level often leads to driving that is tiring and drowsy.
Keeping Your Eyes Wide Open
Fortunately, there are many tips to help the driver who can’t stay awake on the road. The beauty of these fixes is how easy they are to implement into your life. While many people may resort to a can of Red Bull, you can prep your mind and body for the drive without the excess of sugar or stimulants.
10 Tips for Staying Awake While Driving
- Sleep at least 7-8 hours a night
- Pull over and nap if absolutely necessary
- Learn your bodily rhythms (plan long drives according to when you’re most awake/tired)
- Drink plenty of water (even mild dehydration leads to fatigue)
- DON’T DRINK ALCOHOL AT ALL BEFORE DRIVING! (Small amounts may lead to serious drowsiness)
- Try to avoid missing meals (to energy slumps that may cause drowsy driving)
- See your doctor if you have severe drowsiness (could be a sleep-related disorder)
- Have an experienced driver accompany you on long drives
- Install anti-sleep technology (many cars now feature gadgets to keep sleepy drivers alert)
Don’t Sleep on Drowsy Driving
No matter how skilled you may feel as a driver, don’t overlook the effects of drowsiness. Your body’s craving for sleep is powerful, and it will force a nap out of you if necessary. The worst time for this to happen is behind the wheel. So take action if you nod off too frequently while driving. Ask yourself some questions. Am I going to bed too late? Have others expressed their concern about me sleeping while driving? If you realize you have this problem, follow some of the tips listed above to regain control of your drive. Your effort to address drowsy driving can save you and the people you care about from a tragic outcome.