While drivers are correct to be concerned about the dangers of distracted
driving, or as a result of
drinking and driving, one of the main risks drivers face when taking long road trips is the
risk of serious or fatal injury in an accident caused by driver fatigue.
According to statistics from the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an average of 2.4 percent of the fatal vehicle-related accidents
in the U.S. each year can be attributed to driver fatigue. Driver fatigue,
or drowsy driving, is also responsible for between 2.0 and 2.3 percent
of injury collisions. Not all of these instances involve drivers who actually
fell asleep behind the wheel. In some cases, the driver was exhibiting
signs of fatigue, was becoming drowsy, experienced his or her eyes beginning
to droop, or started to get sleepy shortly before the accident occurred.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that out of
150,000 surveyed adults over the age of 18,
4.2 percent admitted to having fallen asleep or dozed off behind the wheel
in the previous 30 days. One of the contributing factors found in those who admitted to dozing
off was that they were getting less than six hours of sleep a night.
Signs You May Be Driving Drowsy
Drivers can protect themselves and their passengers, as well as lower their
risk of being involved in an accident, when they are able to recognize
the signs of drowsy driving. Here are a few of the signs it may be time
to pull over and get some rest:
- You can’t seem to stop yawning or blinking
- Your eyelids have become extremely heavy
- You start daydreaming or finding it difficult to focus on the road ahead
- You missed your intended exit
- You can’t seem to remember traveling the past few miles
- You keep drifting into other lanes or finding yourself dangerous close
to the road’s edge
- You keep hitting the rumble strips along the shoulder of the road
- You find yourself tailgating other drivers
How Fatigue Affects Your Driving Ability
When a driver is feeling fatigued, it can cause him or her to become less
attentive to what is happening on the road ahead, and with surrounding
vehicles. Fatigue can also slow reaction time dramatically, as well as
have a negative impact on a driver’s decision-making abilities.
While some drivers may believe they can drive, even if they are tired,
it is not worth the risk.
What Drivers Should Do Before Setting Out on a Long Road Trip
If you are planning on driving to your vacation destination this summer,
use our long trip checklist so you know what to do before you set out,
and how to keep you and your family safe:
- Make sure you sleep at least six hours as the minimum, preferably more,
the night before you plan to travel and that you feel well-rested and alert.
- Map out your route or input your destination into your vehicle’s GPS.
- Arrange to drive only during daytime hours, as you will be less likely
to get drowsy or fall asleep behind the wheel.
- Figure out places along the way where you can stay the night in a hotel
or get some rest at the house of a family member or friend.
- Arrange to share driving responsibilities with another licensed driver,
so that neither driver becomes exhausted.
- Plan and take regularly scheduled breaks every hour or so. These should
include time to stretch, go to the restroom, and have something to eat
or drink, and walk around a bit.
- Make the decision to pull over right away and either get some rest or switch
drivers if you begin feeling drowsy at any time.
- Do not plan to travel long distances all in one day, particularly if you
do not have another person with you who can act as a relief driver.
- Refrain from taking any prescription or over-the-counter medications before
you get behind the wheel. Medications can be just as dangerous as alcohol
with regard to impaired driving.
- If you believe you may have a sleep disorder, talk with your doctor about
medical treatment options and address this problem fully prior to taking
a road trip.