Closeup portrait sleepy, tired, fatigued, exhausted young attractive woman driving her car after long hour trip, isolated street traffic background. Transportation, sleep deprivation, accident concept

Driving when you’re tired can be as dangerous as driving when you’re drunk.  That’s an alarming thought and one to keep in mind this summer when facing long distances on holiday or joining long, slow queues on hot days.

Air circulating in the car will help keep you alert.  While the obvious move might be to drive with windows down, that’s not always comfortable when temperatures are soaring. 

The solution: turn on the air conditioning system, but we aware that using A/C increases fuel use.  Then, to keep that cooled air circulating, you might be tempted to hit the air recirculation button.

Ironically, this may actually contribute to drowsy driving.  Air recirculation in a car that’s moving slowly for long periods, such as in a queue on the motorway, can lead to a build-up of carbon dioxide (CO2) and that can make you drowsy.

In those circumstances, a blast of fresh air from an open window will help, or otherwise switch the recirculation button off or put the A/C back into auto mode.

Keep Yourself Safe

  • Avoid driving a long distance in one go.  Take regular breaks to stretch your legs with short walks
  • Avoid driving when you would normally be sleeping or likely to be drowsy, such as straight after a big meal or if you take medication which causes drowsiness
  • Share the driving load with others.

If You’re Feeling Drowsy

  • Stop and have a rest.  A 15-20 minute power nap will restore your energy;  any longer than that, your body may enter deep sleep and leave you feeling even more tired
  • Eat a banana and drink water.  While coffee or other caffeinated drinks might seem the obvious choice, they’ll deliver an energy spike but will take a while to be absorbed and won’t have a stimulating effect, especially if you drink coffee regularly.

Part of the problem is that drowsiness occurs over time. Drivers can miss its signs until they are fatigued, which damages their decision-making — including deciding whether to stop driving – don’t get into a drowsy driving situation ! 

Signs that you are fatigued and should not be driving include:

  • Repeated yawning. Yawning indicates a brain not fully awake trying to stimulate itself by increasing oxygen intake. Repeated yawning means your body needs sleep.
  • Repeated blinking. As you tire, your eyes dry out, and blinking is a means of wetting them. The inability to keep your eyes open is also a matter of the muscles in the eyelids being overly stressed. As you instinctively reach to rub your eyes, it is like rubbing a sore calf or arm muscle to keep going.
  • Memory lapse. If you suddenly feel like the last couple of exits or last few kilometres went by without notice, you are too tired to be driving. Lack of sleep impairs the ability to focus and learn, which are required before short-term memory can occur.
  • Lane deviation. Going back and forth within your lane, drifting from lane to lane and/or hitting the rumble strips on the side of the road indicate you are not controlling the vehicle and are drowsy driving. Your fatigue is causing you to be unable to focus and/or handle the physical task of steering correctly.
  • Unsafe driving. Making mistakes or driving badly, like creeping up on a vehicle and tailgating, braking suddenly and too hard or for no reason, or missing a speed limit change, stop sign or other signage may indicate that you are drowsy driving.

Your vehicle may have safety features that indicate problems related to drowsiness, such as lane departure warning, lane-keep assist or collision warning and automatic braking. If such a warning was to alert you once, it should serve as a wake-up call. But if you are warned more than once, you are likely incapable of fully waking up, and should not be driving.

Who Is At Risk For Drowsy Driving ?

There are many groups of people susceptible to driving while tired. Young adults between 18 and 29 are more likely to commit  drowsy driving than other groups. Truck drivers also may drive while fatigued due to their gruelling schedules. Late shift workers, nurses, doctors, police officers, and other people who work long shifts may also be at risk of drowsy driving.

Medical Staff are among the groups of people who work long shifts
and could be at risk of drowsy driving
Police Officers are among the groups of people who work long shifts
and could be at risk of drowsy driving

some of this article is published in AA Directions