Stay Alert: Drowsy Driving a Big Issue On Roadways
Driving drowsy is no joke.
Each year, about 168 million, or 60 percent of the U.S. population claims to have driven a car while drowsy, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll. What’s even more frightening? More than one-third of drivers reported ‘nodding off’ behind the wheel, with 13 percent saying it had happened to them in the past month.
On the road, commercial truck drivers have seen their fair share of accidents caused by drifting cars. Or have seen a car on a freeway median (yup, that person likely nodded off and drifted off the road). With high rates of drowsy drivers sharing the road with other impaired drivers (drunk or on drugs) truck drivers have to be ultra-aware of their surrounding so that if a car swerves or drifts in front of them, they can make the necessary maneuvers to avoid a serious accident.
All it takes is a split second for someone to close his or her eyes and the vehicle veers off the road. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 72,000 accidents are caused by driver fatigue each year, causing 44,000 injuries and around 800 deaths.
Commercial drivers aren’t immune. Even with mandated rest periods, there are plenty of reasons for becoming drowsy on the road: a poor night of sleep, driving too long without a break, medicine, medical issues, change in daily routine, etc.
While truck drivers are used to the long hours on the road, they can still be at risk of becoming drowsy. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, it is estimated that nearly 30 percent of truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea, a condition that can make it difficult to achieve a good night’s sleep.So, what are the signs of drowsiness? Test your knowledge. Here’s some signs provided by Tuck, a company that specializes in promoting better sleep:
- Yawning or blinking frequently — head starts to feel heavy
- Missing traffic signals on familiar roads
- Tailgating other vehicles
- Forgetting the last few miles you’ve driven
- Difficulty thinking clearly (feeling spacey)
- Awareness of your current location — did you miss your exit?
- Losing control of your vehicle
If you’re on the road and start to experience these symptoms, it’s time to take a break, or call it a day. Get off the road and get some shut-eye.
So, what are some tricks to curb these drowsy symptoms in the first place? Tuck shares some tips on how to stay alert on the road.
- First off, try your best to get a good night’s sleep. Being well-rested before you hit the road for the day is the most important factor in setting yourself up for a safe day. Put away your electronics early to help boost your chances for a good nights sleep.
- Chewing gum is a great way to stimulate your senses and increase your attentiveness.
- Listening to energetic music helps increase your energy level. Ditch the Mozart and listen to some AC/DC or other music that will keep you energized.
- See a rest stop? Pull over and simply walk around. Increasing your heart rate is an effective way to combat drowsiness.
- Eat sunflower seeds. When you’re constantly chewing and separating the seeds from the shells with your teeth, your brain is more active.
- Here’s a no brainer, drink a caffeinated product like coffee or tea. It usually takes about 20 minutes for caffeine to kick in though, so plan accordingly.
As Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, from the 1980’s TV show Hill Street Blues would say, “Let’s be careful out there.”