Drowsy driving ranks among the worst offenders when it comes to poor driving habits that lead to crashes. The ability to recognize the signs of driver fatigue is key to creating a fleet safety culture that eliminates those habits and the risk of crash-related injuries.
Unfortunately, not everyone follows through on their commitment to eliminating bad driving habits. The mentality of some drivers is “do as I say, not as I do.” Action is needed in these areas, not just words.
Drowsy driving alone led to 91,000 police-report crashes, 800 deaths, and 50,000 injuries in just one year, according to data analyzed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drivers could have prevented every one of those crashes if they knew the signs of driver fatigue and took action when they occurred.
The Signs of Driver Fatigue
It helps for drivers to know the signs of driver fatigue, as well as when it is most likely to occur. It’s something that impacts many drivers, as about 60 percent report driving drowsy at some point (37 percent admit they have fallen asleep at the wheel).
The first important tip is knowing when driver fatigue happens. Statistics show driver fatigue occurs most frequently between midnight and 2 a.m., 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Signs of driver fatigue include:
- Heavy eyelids
- A burning sensation in the eyes.
- Difficulty focusing the eyes.
- Frequent yawning
- Muscle spasms or twitches
- Shallow breathing
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing on a thought
- A sense of disorientation
- Loss of sensation in arms and legs
Anyone experiencing these signs of driver fatigue should not try to “push through it” and keep going. That’s a bad idea. Driver fatigue leads to people entering into an almost trance-like state behind the wheel. Sleepiness causes slower reaction time, impaired vision and judgment, increased moodiness, and more aggressive behavior.
Rather than keep driving, those experiencing drowsiness should stop the vehicle at the nearest safe place and take the time to rest (including taking a nap) and recover. Otherwise, they are taking a risk not only with their lives and those of their passengers, but also people in other vehicles.
Ways to Avoid Drowsy Driving
Drivers should always stay aware if any of the signs above occur, especially if they happen during the times when crashes related to drowsy driving most frequently occur. If that is the case, find a safe place to rest. Also, consuming a caffeinated beverage can eliminate feelings of drowsiness.
Another smart habit on long drives is to stop regularly, get out, move around and stretch. This has the effect of waking the body up and helping drivers prevent fatigue. Drivers should avoid alcohol or medications that cause drowsiness.
Drivers should also slightly move their eyes rather than staring at one fixed point. Drivers should always sit up straight, not slump or lean back. It also helps to keep the vehicle’s interior at a cool temperature.
Drivers should always schedule trips during times they would be awake, not during times they normally sleep. They should get a good night’s sleep before any trip, and also eat a healthy, light meal (heavy meals can lead to drowsiness).
Also, it’s helpful to share driving duties with a passenger so that no one spends too many hours behind the wheel.
These tips can help drivers both recognize driver fatigue and take action to prevent it. The most important thing to remember is to stop the vehicle rather than driving drowsy. Staying on the road is not worth the risk it presents to both the driver and other vehicles.