Car crashes are the leading cause of death in the U.S. Yikes! There’s lots of advice on the Internet about how to stay safe behind the wheel, but most of it is useless. Edmunds publishes 10 tips that include such gems as “avoid the fast lane” and “beware of blind spots”. Another site offers 19 things not to do. Insurer GEICO says the key is to develop the “right attitude” about driving. Even the venerable Consumer Reports throws six “rules” that include “driving the right car” and not driving too fast. Really? Remember 19 things and drive slowly? Is this the best that you can do?
Here’s the best advice that we have for someone who drives more than 30 minutes at a time. WAKE UP! That’s it. Just keep your eyes open and the mind alert. That’s because driving drowsy can be just as dangerous as driving drunk. In fact, a U.S. government agency found that in 2013, drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths. It adds that these numbers are underestimated and up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers A 2010 report conducted by the AAA Foundation found that one out of every six accidents in the US is caused by a driver who has fallen asleep at the wheel. Four years later, the same foundation found things had worsened; drowsy drivers are involved in an estimated 21% of fatal crashes, up from 16.5% from the previous 2010 study. It also found that drivers themselves are often crash victims who die in single-car crashes. British researchers have found that driving deteriorates after two hours of continuous driving, as you become less able to concentrate, and slower to react to hazards. The longer you drive for, the more rest you need to recover driving performance.
So how do you really avoid that fatal accident? According to the CDC, the most important thing to do is to get enough sleep. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep per day, while teens need at least eight. If you haven’t slept well, you have no business getting behind a wheel of a car for any more than 30 minutes at a time. But perhaps, the most important tip we can offer is to recognize the signs of drowsy driving. If you are yawning or blinking frequently, if you can’t remember the past few miles, if you are missing exits, drifting, or hitting rumble strips, it is time to pull over and take a break or use some of these strategies:
- Roll down windows or raise the vehicle’s air conditioning to chill you up a bit.
- Listen to some kick-ass good music. If you have to, sing out loud (but be mindful of the other passengers).
- Drink energy drinks or coffee and then take a 15 minute nap, giving time for the caffeine to kick in.
- If you do feel like you may be too drowsy to drive, pull off to the shoulder or at the nearest rest stop.
- Allow enough time to take breaks of at least 15 minutes at least every two hours.
- If you have a sleep disorder or have symptoms of a sleep disorder such as snoring or feeling sleepy during the day, talk to your physician about treatment options.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or taking medications that make you sleepy. Be sure to check the label on any medications or talk to your pharmacist.