Drowsy driving is a generic term for any driving undertaken when tired. While many of us may consider true drowsy driving to be an extreme event only possible when driving long distances in the middle of the night, it can in fact happen on trips of any length, at any time of the day or night depending on levels of the driver’s sleep deprivation. With markedly reduced reaction times and concentration, a drowsy driver is putting themselves, their passengers, other road users and pedestrians in serious danger.
In a 2011 study by the road safety charity Brake, some worrying statistics were uncovered about the amount of people who have admitted to drowsy driving. Some 12.5% of UK drivers said that they had gone behind the wheel while tired, and an alarming 86% confessed to not taking rest breaks when tired on long journeys. Tests have shown that drowsy drivers perform in a similar way to drivers who are drunk or under the influence of drugs, underlining the incredibly dangerous nature of the issue.
A recent experiment which deprived drivers of sleep for 28 hours found that their driving performance was lowered to that of someone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.1%, which is significantly higher than the legal driving limit. Motor skills, judgement, and memory are all impaired when BAC reaches this level, but unlike drink driving, there are currently no ways to detect a tired driver, and even they themselves won’t be aware of just how dangerous their fatigue becomes when they get behind a wheel.
Thankfully drowsy driving is completely unnecessary, and requires just a few simple common sense rules to avoid entirely. First and foremost, the obvious antidote to grogginess is a good sleep routine. So, if driving is a regular part of your day then you simply must make sure that you are suitably refreshed with a good night’s sleep. Remember that although you’re sitting down in a comfortable car you’re still expending energy by concentrating on the road – if you’re starting out with low energy then driving is only going to worsen things. Make sure you’ve ‘fuelled’ your body with a decent meal, as well as being hydrated.
On longer drives make sure that you take regular breaks. As a rule of thumb these should be around fifteen minutes of rest for every two hours of driving. Take advantage of service stations, get out of the car, stretch your legs with a walk and take in some fresh air. A quick snack and drink will also make the most of each break. Schedule long drives effectively with planned rest stops.
Don’t expect too much from coffee and energy drinks. While these high-caffeine drinks are great for short bursts of alertness they can’t be relied on for constant energy over a period of several hours, and a state of being over-caffeinated through too many drinks can be problematic to sleep quality later on.
Last but certainly not least, if you feel that you’re just too tired to drive at all, then make alternative travel arrangements.
No sensible driver would deliberately put themselves and others at risk on the road, yet drowsy driving is doing just that. By getting a good quality sleep, applying a common sense approach and reacting to your tiredness levels with food, drink and rest will ensure that you can avoid drowsiness and stay safe on the road.
Lack of sleep has a detrimental effect on pretty much every aspect of your everyday life, and you can read more about some of the shocking consequences of sleep deprivation here.