It is estimated that more vehicle crashes happen due to drowsy driving than due to driving under influence of alcohol. In fact, sleep deprivation can have a similar effect on your body as drinking alcohol. SSISA sleep scientist, Rob Henst, explains the dangers of drowsy driving, and what you can do to prevent it.
If you have been awake for 18 hours straight, your driving abilities are similar to when you have a blood alcohol level of 0.05%, which is the legal limit in South Africa. Yet, police road blocks in South Africa (or any other country for that matter) check if you haven’t been drinking, but not if you are well rested. Similarly, you wouldn’t get in the car with a driver who is drunk, but how often do you refuse a lift because the driver is tired? Driving under influence (even below the legal limit) and drowsy driving are not mutually exclusive. In fact, because drinking often occurs in the evenings, which is the time of day you are more likely to be tired, the two often go hand in hand, making driving even more unsafe!
Drowsy driving is dangerous for various reasons. The most obvious one is the increased chance of dozing off. Just a microsleep – a brief period of sleep of only seconds – is enough to make you drift off the road straight into a disaster. But even if you manage to stay awake, drowsy driving decreases your alertness, making you less aware of dangerous situations. Sleepiness also increases the time you need to react to these dangerous situations, at these times, even thousandths of a second can mean the difference between “right on time” or “just too late”.
Drowsiness while driving can creep up to you at any time, be one step ahead of disaster by recognizing drowsiness while driving. Here are the ten most common warning signs of drowsy driving, ordered from least severe to most severe:
There are no tips or life hacks that allow you to stay awake while driving drowsy. However, there are some things you can do to prevent drowsy driving. Here are five tips to ensure you arrive at your destination safely:
Having someone to talk to while you are driving will keep you awake. Plus, now you have two people keeping an eye on the warning signs mentioned above. Switch driver seats frequently to break up large chunks of driving.
You are naturally more sleepy at night than you are during the day, all thanks to our biological clock. This will put you at higher risk for drowsy driving during the night. Driving in the dark is also less stimulating because there is less to see to keep you awake.
If you notice any of the warning signs mentioned above, there is no radio channel, brand of take-away coffee or climate control setting that will keep you awake. Stop your vehicle immediately and have a nap for 20 minutes. Sleep is the only cure for drowsy driving. Just make sure you park at a safe place.
In some cases you may already know that you are going to be tired when driving. For example, after a birthday party, after a night shift or simply after a long working day. Call a taxi or have a friend or family member pick you up instead of driving home yourself.
If you generally struggle with daytime sleepiness, for example if you fall asleep in front of the TV or during meetings, you may have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or poor sleep hygiene. Avoid drowsy driving by ensuring you are well-rested before you step in your vehicle.
Drowsy driving can happen to all of us, at any time. By being aware of the warning signs and by understanding how drowsy driving can be prevented, you minimise your risk of getting involved in a sleep-related vehicle crash. If you are concerned about your daytime sleepiness, and you would like to get to the bottom of it, book your Sleep Check with us today via www.sleepscience.co.za.