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Managing Driver Fatigue

Driver fatigue is one of the most common culprits behind car accidents. Fatigue is especially dangerous for those facing monotonous driving conditions, such as long highway trips. Paradoxically, most would not consider driving drunk, but many individuals would not think twice about driving when tired. However, research has shown that fatigued motorists are at least as dangerous as drunk ones. For example, going 19 hours without sleep is the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level of .05, while going 24 hours without resting is the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level of .10. Clearly, exhaustion has a profound impact on reaction times, thus making it a serious safety hazard for motorists. Read on to learn how to manage tiredness on the roads most effectively.

The Antidote to Fatigue

Sleep is the only effective and lasting way to combat weariness. Studies have shown that fatigue-fighting "tricks" drivers use work only for a short period of time, if at all. Examples of these fatigue-fighting behaviors include rolling down the window and turning up the radio. The bottom line is that nothing can substitute for adequate rest. A 1999 article in the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggested that the most potent way to combat tiredness is to stop driving and rest. The researchers found that a 30-minute break consisting of a 15-minute nap and coffee (or the equivalent of 150 mg of caffeine) had the strongest rejuvenating effect on motorists.

Preventing Fatigue

Getting a good night's rest before you hit the road is the best way to prevent exhaustion. Additionally, motorists should avoid driving at night, as circadian rhythms can induce exhaustion even in those who are not sleep-deprived. Monotonous, nighttime driving conditions typically pose the highest risk for accidents related to driver weariness. Younger people also require more rest than older motorists, so a good night's rest is particularly important for young drivers. Statistically, male drivers under the age of 25 are at the greatest risk for falling asleep at the wheel. Remaining aware of your risk factors as a driver will help you fight weariness more effectively.

Recognizing the Signs

Those who nod off at the wheel usually know that they are tired, so falling asleep hardly comes as a surprise. Although most do not recall falling asleep, they can remember trying to fight off tiredness, which is the most obvious sign of weariness. If you have to fight to keep yourself awake, you should take this as a red flag that you need to pull over and rest. Sleep-deprived individuals often fall into sudden microsleeps, which are short bouts that last four or five seconds. During this time, a car can travel up to 100 yards, leaving more than enough time for a serious accident to occur. Here are a few other warning signs of tiredness:

  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Delayed reactions
  • Moodiness
  • Yawning
  • Restlessness

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