Drowsiness has a globally negative impact on performance, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Sleepiness, a result of lack of rest, slows reaction time, decreases situational awareness and impairs judgment. NHTSA reported that about 100,000 crashes and 1800 deaths in the U.S. result each year from fatigued drivers of commercial trucks.
The news is full of accidents caused by tired truckers, and many of the injured and deceased are the truck drivers themselves. Often, a truck driver will fall asleep on a stretch of highway where there are no or few other drivers and crash his/her rig.Other times fatigue results in accidents involving cars and commercial trucks, the majority of which prove fatal for the passengers in the non-commercial vehicle due to the enormous size of trucks.
The National Sleep Foundation compiled practical tips to prevent driver fatigue and drowsiness:
1. Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
People who are not eating properly or are overweight suffer from poor quality sleep.
2. Set a consistent sleep cycle. Consistency can help when getting “more” sleep is not an option. Sleep experts recommend at least eight hours of sleep a night in order to function properly, yet a full third of American adults sleep six hours or less nightly during the workweek.
3. Maintain a regular exercise schedule. Any activity on a consistent basis should help.
4. Cut down or eliminate caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine consumption,especially before going to sleep. It can take up to 6 hours to get caffeine out of your bloodstream. Any of these substances before bedtime can affect how you rest.
5. Recognize warning signs: Drifting or weaving in your lane, tailgating, missing your exit, head nodding, excessive yawning, or rubbing of eyes. Take a break if you experience wandering or disconnected thoughts, yawn repeatedly, have difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open, or find yourself missing traffic signs or tailgating other drivers.
6. Pull over (in a safe area) for a short nap and then take a walk to stretch and wake up. On longer trips, schedule a break (in a safe area) every two hours or every 100 miles, and stop sooner if you show any signs of sleepiness.
7. Avoid caffeine. Caffeine is not a miracle stimulant able to help us perform better for longer. In reality, coffee is an adrenal stimulant. Adrenal fatigue is often a result of chronic stress, such as that a person experiences when maneuvering an 80,000-pound vehicle across long distances among a variety of hazards. When the body has used all the cortisol in our adrenal glands, it tells us to rest. Coffee is essentially an override button to that command. Pushing the body past its limits is not healthy, especially when a person uses an outside stimulant, such as coffee, to do so. The body will not perform as well with artificial stimulants as it well as it would with nature’s best booster: sleep.
8. Drive during the time of the day when you are normally awake if you’re planning on driving a long distance.
9. If possible, have someone accompany you and talk with that person while driving. It’s a good idea for your passenger to stay awake too so that they can let you know if you are showing signs of sleepiness. Do not talk on the cell phone, as that is a dangerous behavior in itself.
It’s not always possible to take all the preventative measures prior to a drive or trip, so we have compiled a list of additional tips that can be utilized on the spot to stay awake. It is important to recognize that nothing but rest/sleep will prevent fatigue-related accidents. Any other tactic is simply an initial measure for drivers who are finding the fatigue only mildly distracting or to maintain a driver until he/she can find a safe place to stop. A driver who is experiencing a level of tiredness they find impossible to overcome or who is experiencing any impairment must pull over as soon as possible and sleep.
Tip: Open the window.
This is more effective when it is colder outside the car than in. The cool or cold air will shock your senses, giving you a jolt, as well as refresh you. Take deep breaths of the breeze, flooding your brain with the oxygen it needs to function.
Tip: Pull over and get exercise.
If fresh breezes didn’t get you enough oxygen, pull over and do some quick exercises. Running around the car, jumping jacks and anything that accelerates your heart rate will revitalize you and keep you awake. As a rule, if it is safe enough for you to pull over and exercise, it is safe enough to sleep, and you should rest until you are no longer too fatigued to drive.
Tip: Keep your taste buds awake, keep yourself awake.
Some people find that eating something tart or tangy can wake up the taste buds and, thus, the mind. Eating a fruit like an apple or orange or even sucking on a lemon is beneficial. For those who want something less messy, hard lemon-flavored candies may do the trick. Stayalert.org recommends carrots due to the extra effort and time required to chew them, as well as the safety of eating something that only requires one hand.
Tip: Listen to music.
Some experts say to listen to music you dislike. Listening to your favorite music, especially if it’s familiar/soothing and rhythmic, can lull you into a feeling of comfort, which may encourage sleep. Louder volume may help as well, although the brain adapts well to sound and can even tune out very loud music. Studies have shown that music with a high frequency (fast beat) is the most effective. Familiar music may have its benefits too, as singing to music requires use of your facial and abdominal (try deep diaphragm breathing while you belt out the tunes) muscles, and entertains your mind.
Tip: Listen to books on tape.
This is more interactive than just listening to music, as most books require you to engage in some consideration while listening. Inspirational and instructional books are the best, as they often contain a call to action or question-asking method that requires active participation from the listener.
The ultimate goal is to give your body what it truly needs, especially if that is sleep.
Perhaps arriving at your destination late will decrease your wages, jeopardize your job, inconvenience other people, or a variety of undesirable circumstances, but not arriving at all because you’ve been involved in a fatigue-related accident is far worse. Choose safety for yourself and others on the road with you, and get the sleep you need before operating or continuing to operate a vehicle.
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If you or someone you care about as been injured or you have lost a loved one in an accident that may have been a result of driver fatigue, contact an expert accident attorney for a free initial consultation at 1.877.591.1801.