The Memorial Day weekend is almost here and the season of the road trip is almost upon us. It’s a time of year when many pack up their cars and hit the endless highway to explore America, a time when many of us put ourselves and others in danger as we drive long distances we aren’t accustomed to. The National Transportation Safety Board reports that drowsy driving causes “more than 100,000 crashes a year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths,” so here are some tips to help you arrive safely at your destination.
- SLEEP! You need sleep, this is a fact of nature, if you don’t sleep well you won’t drive well.
- Take Breaks. I know it’s tempting to push through and get where you’re going without stopping, but make a pit stop. You don’t have to stop long; just pull into a gas station, use the bathroom, top off the tank, grab a snack, make a few seconds of small talk with the clerk. The stimulation will help reawaken your senses.
- Yoga. I wouldn’t recommend downward facing dog, but a series of stretches behind the wheel can reduce your fatigue.
- Drive when you’re typically awake. Don’t drive at between midnight and 6 am if you don’t have to. Unless you’re working the night shift, your body has grown used to sleeping at night. Your circadian rhythm leads you to naturally feel and literally be more awake if you are driving in the daytime.
- Phone a Friend. If I’m getting sleepy while driving, I call Amanda or any other member of my family. I get on the road at 1:30 am and have an understanding with my wife that if I call we can talk, no complaints about her being woken in the middle of the night. The key is keeping your brain active and a stimulating conversation is helpful. That “conversation” can even be with yourself — try a few “what if” questions, they always keep my brain firing.
- Coffee? I am a fan. I love coffee, but you need to respect that it’s only a short-term fix. The pick-me-up provided by your cup of joe is no substitute for rest. I drink lots of strong coffee, espresso by the 16 oz cup, and it doesn’t always keep me awake. I also find that if you drink a lot of coffee you fill your bladder and have to go; although as uncomfortable as may be, at least you’re not thinking about sleep.
I’m sorry if this is a little preachy. I am guilty of drowsy driving at times. I am the first to admit that my sleep pattern sucks and my typical 5 hours a night isn’t enough. I have many tricks that I use to get through my busy day, some listed above. I know my chances of something bad happening increase each time I get on the road. I just hope sharing some tips and thoughts make it a bit safer.