Have you ever been on a road trip and you’re about 20 miles from your destination, but you’re so sleepy that you can barely keep your eyes open? And you know that you should pull off the road, get out of the car and walk around a bit. Maybe get something to drink and some fresh air, but you just keep on driving? “It’s only 20 miles! I can make it.” Seconds later, as your car is leaving the pavement, you are jolted awake “Yikes! How long was I asleep?” Even if you get plenty of rest before you start out on that road trip, you can only endure so many hours before your brain kicks into “screen saver” mode. Most state laws consider that drowsy driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving and there are strict penalties. Much like intoxication, sleepiness slows down reaction time while it also decreases awareness and impairs judgment.

According to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), fatigued driving or drowsy driving is the principal cause of up to 100,000 vehicle crashes every year. Reports say at least 1,500 people are killed and injuring 71,000! While these numbers are staggering, there are yet more numbers of fatigue-related crashed that go unreported.

But these are primarily passenger vehicle crashes. Less than 1% of all sleep-related crashes involve truckers. Currently, Federal laws are in place, prohibiting truckers to drive more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period. My Grandfather was a trucker who spent his career hauling fuel cross-country. Back then, truckers could for drive for days without sleep. And, in those days, people thought that drinking coffee, or taking over the counter meds would keep them awake. It was also common to take illegal drugs such as Amphetamines to keep awake. But we all know that what goes up must eventually come down. It’s true that truckers would get what they called “white line fever” (a song by Merle Haggard, R.I.P., sniff…). But now I’m thinking that white line fever must have had two meanings.

Here is a list compiled by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety of the top 10 things you can do to avoid falling asleep at the wheel:
1. If you feel sleepy, stop driving. Pull over, get out and get a beverage.
2. If you get a caffeinated beverage, since it takes about 30 minutes to kick-in, take a nap.
3. Get plenty of sleep the night before your trip (6 hours or more).
4. Don’t leave for a long road trip right after work.
5. Drive during the hours that you are normally awake and stay in a hotel at your normal bedtime.
6. If you are planning to drive straight through, take a nap between midnight and dawn.
7. Avoid carbohydrates since they make you drowsy. Protein enriched foods and beverages are best.
8. Forget the cold and allergy meds or any meds that may make you drowsy.
9. Have a passenger in the front seat to talk to.
10. Pull over every two hours or every 100 miles. Even if you don’t feel like you need to. It’ll give you, your passengers and your car a break. And try to only drive 300-400 miles per day.

Until next week…

Daun Thompson
Writer / Comedienne / Artist
Drowsy Driving – Comedy Defensive Driving School