The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Drowsiness has a globally negative impact on performance, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases situational awareness, and impairs judgment. Drowsy driving can endanger other drivers and place people at risk of injury

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 at the wheel 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 non-commercial vehicles due to the enormous size of trucks.

The NHTSA has reported that driver fatigue accounts for about 13% of all commercial truck accidents each year, or close to 65,000 accidents per year.

Tips for Preventing Driver Fatigue and Drowsiness

1. Eat a healthy, balanced diet. People who are not eating properly or who have issues with weight often suffer from poor quality of 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 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 consistent physical activity should help. Regular exercise increases blood flow and brings more oxygen to the brain.

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: These include 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 secure place 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 to help us perform better for longer. In reality, coffee is an adrenal stimulant. Adrenal fatigue can increase tiredness. It is often a result of chronic stress, such as that which a person experiences when driving 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 well as it would with nature’s best booster: sleep.

8. Drive during the time of the day when you are usually awake if you’re planning on driving a long distance. Falling asleep at the wheel often happens when you’re driving during the hours when you are usually sleeping.

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 a cell phone, as that is dangerous behavior in itself.

Winding highway road leading up to mountains at dusk


5 Tips for Staying Awake While on the Road

It’s not always possible to take all the preventative measures before a drive or trip. You might find yourself on a long stretch until you get to a safe place to rest. So, we have compiled a list of additional tips to stay awake on the spot. Again, these are only distant alternatives to the best solution, which is stopping and resting.

Tip 1: Open the window

This is more effective when it is colder outside the car than inside. The fresh, cold air will shock your senses with a refreshing jolt. Breathe in the breeze deeply, flooding your brain with the oxygen it needs to function.

Tip 2: Pull over and get exercise

If crisp air didn’t get you enough oxygen, pull over and do a few quick exercises. Running, jumping jacks, and anything that accelerates your heart rate will revitalize you and keep you awake. As a rule, however, if it is safe enough for you to pull over and exercise, it is safe enough to sleep. If you can, you should rest until you are no longer too fatigued to drive.

Tip 3: Keep your taste buds awake, keep yourself awake

People find that eating something tart or tangy can wake up the mind as well as the taste. Eating 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.

Tip 4: Listen to music

Experts say to listen to music you dislike. Listening to your favorite music, especially if it’s soothing and rhythmic, can lull you into a feeling of comfort, which may encourage sleep. Louder volume may help, although the brain adapts well to sound and can sometimes tune out even loud music. 

Studies have shown that music with a high tempo (fast beat) is most effective. Singing along with the music may have other benefits, as it entertains your mind and requires the use of your facial and abdominal muscles (try deep diaphragm breathing while you belt out the tunes).

Tip 5: Listen to Podcasts or Audiobooks 

This is more interactive than just listening to music, since Podcasts and audiobooks require you to engage in 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.

Still, the ultimate goal is to give your body what it truly needs, especially if that is sleep.

Please recognize that nothing but rest and sleep will prevent fatigue-related accidents. Any other tactic is simply an initial measure to maintain a driver until he/she can find a suitable place to stop. A driver should pull over as soon as possible and sleep if they feel their driving will be compromised. 

Avoid Drowsy Driving and Arrive Safely at Your Destination

Perhaps arriving at your destination late will decrease your wages, jeopardize your job, or inconvenience other people. However, not arriving at all because you ended up in a fatigue-related accident is far worse. Drowsy driving can also lead to reckless driving charges, which can create more legal troubles. 

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.

If you or someone you care about has been injured or you have lost a loved one in an accident that may have been a result of driver fatigue, we understand what you are going through. We provide compassionate representation for those whose lives have been affected by commercial truck driver negligence, which includes falling asleep at the wheel.

The attorneys at Fried Rogers Goldberg have extensive experience with trucking laws, which allows us to help our clients get the justice they deserve. Contact us for a free initial consultation at (404) 591-1800. We are here to listen and help you through these difficult times.

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