How to Stop Falling Asleep at the Wheel
Drowsy driving is just as dangerous as driving under the influence or being distracted behind the wheel. In 2018, the AA’s Charitable Trust published drowsy driving data; it stated that 1 in 5 accidents that occur on major roads are a result of tiredness, and 13% of UK drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel. Drowsy driving is extremely dangerous and has been the cause of numerous fatalities on British roads. Thus, you need to understand what causes falling asleep while driving, drowsy driving symptoms, and how to stop falling asleep at the wheel.
What is Drowsy Driving?
Drowsy driving is the act of operating a motor vehicle whilst experiencing sleep deprivation. Falling asleep whilst driving, having slower reaction times, being unable to focus on the road or make good judgements are all symptoms of drowsy driving.
What Causes Falling Asleep at the Wheel?
Sleep deprivation - The main cause of falling asleep at the wheel is sleep deprivation. If you are sleep deprived, your brain is unable to function properly, which will impact your ability to drive safely.
Poor sleep schedule - A haphazard sleeping pattern also contributes to poor quality sleep and increases the likelihood of drowsy driving. Shift workers, such as hospital staff, are especially susceptible to this. The Guardian reported accounts from healthcare workers who have fallen asleep behind the wheel, or who have lost colleagues due to drowsy driving, which highlights the severity of this problem.
Long, hard work days - Many drivers find it a struggle to stay awake on their commute home from a long day at work. If this is case for you, try to find alternative commuting methods and focus on consistently getting high-quality sleep. Most importantly, discuss your concerns and your workload with your boss because safety is paramount.
Driving long hours - Driving long hours can cause tiredness, too, which puts long-haul lorry drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers and delivery drivers more at risk. However, anybody completing a multi-hour drive can experience tiredness and should plan their route or share driving time with others to reduce the risk.
Medication - Driving and falling asleep can also be caused by medication with side-effects of drowsiness. If you are taking prescription or over-the-counter medication, double-check the side effects with your doctor, be extra vigilant and in some cases report your situation to the DVLA.
Jetlag - Another cause of drowsy driving is jetlag. Your body can struggle with changes in time zone, even when you’ve had a few hours sleep. If you’re a frequent traveller, whether that’s for business or pleasure, find other ways to commute after a trip (especially when travelling home from the airport).
Warning Signs That You’re Too Tired to Drive
· Yawning frequently.
· Blinking frequently.
· Heavy eyelids.
· Difficulty reading signs.
· Missing your exit or turnings.
· Drifting between lanes.
How to Stop Falling Asleep at the Wheel
Have a quality night’s sleep - The most effective way to prevent falling asleep at the wheel is to get a quality night’s sleep of at least seven hours the night before your journey. To improve your quality of sleep, you should sleep in a dark room, avoid screen-time for at least one hour before bed, avoid eating heavy meals for two hours before bed, stick to a sleep schedule if you can and sleep on a comfortable, high-quality mattress.
Don’t drive long distances alone - When you travel with a partner, family member or friend, you can share the driving to avoid driving and falling asleep. A driving partner can also help to identify when you are starting to become too tired to drive. If you are planning on sharing the trip with someone else, confirm that they are insured to drive your car before setting off.
Take regular, scheduled breaks - It is advised to take a break from driving every two hours. So, before a lengthy journey, take time to plan your route so you know when and where you should be taking breaks. Have a nap during these breaks if it’s safe to do so, but be aware of feeling drowsy when you wake up. If you’re undertaking an especially long drive, plan and book a hotel or B&B that you can sleep at overnight.
Avoid driving during hours when you would typically be asleep - For most of us, this is late at night and early in the morning. During these hours, your internal body clock will be encouraging you to sleep. If you can’t avoid driving during late hours, make sure you nap in the day before you embark.
Don’t drink alcohol the night before a long journey - Even if the alcohol is out of your system, consuming alcohol that night before a trip can disrupt your sleep and cause drowsiness.
Don’t take sleeping pills the night before – Avoiding sleeping pills may seem ironic; however, they can stay in your system for a lot longer than a seven-hour night sleep. As a result, consuming sleeping pills can cause drowsiness the following day.
Consume caffeine – Drink a caffeinated drink, like coffee or cola, for a short-term solution. A cup of caffeine can increase alertness; however, it can take up to thirty minutes to kick in, so keep that in mind.
Take public transport - If you are concerned about drowsy driving, take public transportation or ask somebody else to drive. Road safety for you and others is most essential, so don’t take the risk if you are not well-rested enough to drive. If you’re driving long hours to attend a wedding or party, see if taking public transport is a viable option. Booking public transport as advanced as possible will help to keep the costs down, and you’ll avoid petrol expenses too.
Driving and falling asleep is not safe for you, your passengers, or anybody else on the roads. Be sure to follow our tips on how to stop falling asleep at the wheel, and prioritise getting a good night’s sleep before any drive.