Drowsy Driving: Guide to Prevent Falling Asleep at the Wheel
Did you know that drowsy driving represents 10-30% of all car crashes in Australia? In country roads, moreover, 1 in 4 accidents that involve only one car are due to the driver falling asleep. These road statistics are very real and alarming. In fact, the cost to the community is estimated to be $2 billion every year.
As a responsible driver, you should know how to prevent driver fatigue and the tell-tale signs that you’re about to fall asleep at the wheel.
All about Drowsy Driving
Also called “driver fatigue”, Drowsy Driving happens when you are too tired to operate a motor vehicle. Most fatigued drivers have slower reaction times and impaired short-term memory while on the road.
Statistics show that drowsy driving accidents are 50% more likely to involve people aged 25 or younger. Shiftworkers and long distance truck drivers are also at high risk. Unsurprisingly, people with sleep disorders such as Central Sleep Apnoea and Obstructive Sleep Apnea have a much higher risk.
Causes of Driver Fatigue
- Inadequate, interrupted or fragmented sleep
- Chronic insomnia, narcolepsy and other sleep disorders
- A work schedule that affects amount of sleep and/or circadian rhythm
- Driving for too long without a sufficient rest period
- Use of sedatives, hypnotics and other sleep aids prior to driving
- Consumption of alcohol or narcotics
- Any combination of these factors
Warning Signs of Tiredness While Driving
- Eyes closing or going out of focus
- Trouble keeping the head up
- Cannot stop yawning
- Wandering thoughts, difficulty concentrating on driving
- Cannot remember driving the past few kilometres
- Drifting between lanes, off the road or miss signs
- Very heavy eyelids
- Slow blinking
Is It the Same as Drunk Driving?
Because sleep deprivation can have similar effects on your body as drinking alcohol, there have been studies relating drowsy driving and drunk driving.
In Australia, it is an offence to drive while your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) 0.05 or above. For novice drivers, Extraordinary Licence holders, taxi or bus drivers, the legal limit is 0.
Meanwhile, a study conducted by the Adelaide Centre for Sleep Research concluded:
- A person who has been awake for 17 hours faces the same risk of a crash as a person who has a BAC reading of 0.05 g/100ml. They are therefore twice as likely to have an accident as a person with a zero blood alcohol content who is not fatigued.
- Drivers who have been awake for 24 hours will have a driving performance similar to a person who has a BAC of 0.1 g/100ml. They are seven times more likely to have an accident.
This research shows that drowsy driving and drunk driving are dangerous in that they both affect the ability of the driver to focus on the road. One difference can be seen in how they look on the road. A drunk driver may still try to react upon collision. But drowsy drivers don’t always brake or swerve if something happens, as they are asleep behind the wheel while still going fast.
Law enforcement authorities find it harder to spot drowsy drivers as there is no tool, like the breathalyser for instance, to determine the tiredness of the driver. Moreover, once pulled over by police, the driver will most like be more alert. So, these cases are very difficult to prosecute unless the driver readily admits it.
How to Prevent Drowsy Driving
The good news is drowsy driving is completely preventable. You just have to keep in mind these 7 tips for doze-free driving:
- Get some sleep. When you know that you’re going on a long drive, make sure you get a good night’s sleep beforehand. Most accidents happen when you have less than 6 hours of sleep so try to get more Zzzs in before the drive.
- Take a break. Every 100 kilometres or 2 hours, pull over and do something to refresh yourself. Maybe grab a snack or do some stretching.
- Have a nap. When you can’t help it any longer, stop driving and power nap. An effective nap it takes about 15-20 minutes and not any longer. Why not try Ecosa’s Pillow which you can also use for travelling. Just make sure you get out of the car afterwards and walk around for a bit before continuing on.
- Drive with a buddy. Especially for long drives at night, it might be best to bring a buddy along so you can switch places before the sleepiness completely takes you.
- Bring backup. Although these may only bring temporary relief, it doesn’t hurt to get coffee, chew gum, listen to music, or open your car window while driving. This will help keep your mind active while behind the wheel.
- Drive in daylight. Isn’t it always better to drive in the sun? As much as possible, schedule your driving when you are naturally alert and energized.
- Avoid alcohol and medications with drowsiness as a side-effect. This seems to be obvious, but it’s important to reiterate.
The Best Cure of All Is Sleep
Sleeping is a wonderful thing. It’s the time you take every day to give your body and mind a break. It’s the healing rest you need so you can be your best every morning. For drivers, that means being mentally sharp, vigilant, and patient on the road at all times. If you don’t take care of your sleep, you can cause real harm to yourself and your community. So be responsible and catch some z’s!