Driver fatigue is one of the major causes of accidents on our roads. The primary reason drowsy/fatigued drivers crash on the road is because they usually overlook this fatigue and believe they can manage to keep alert despite the feeling of drowsiness or sleepiness. Driver fatigue is often overlooked as a risk on our roads, compared to drunk-driving and driving under the influence of drugs; but fatigued drivers pose as much threat on our roads as both aforementioned. Sleepiness while driving often occurs in between 1:00 am to 6:00 am, and 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. In this article, we will be talking about: people that are prone to sleepiness while driving, what sleep apnea is, the symptoms of fatigue or sleepiness, the causes and effects of fatigue to drivers, and how to stay awake while driving.

Who is prone to sleepiness while driving?
  • People who work long shifts are highly prone to sleepiness while driving because they don’t get enough quality sleep as day-time sleep is not as effective as night-time sleep, and they tend to get on the wheels during hours when their body clock is saying they should be asleep.
  • Long-distance drivers also tend to suffer sleepiness behind the wheels because long-distance driving could get tiring and/or boring. Driving beyond 8 hours in a day is inadvisable as this could also induce fatigue. Working long hours during the day leads to stress and also induces fatigue in the body when one gets behind the wheels to drive, as well as doing jobs that require a lot of physical or mental activity.
  • People that don’t get adequate sleep, or have irregular sleeping patterns are also likely to feel drowsy while driving because they owe a debt to sleep and may have to catch up during odd times.
  • Engaging in excessive exercise before driving is also another cause of driver fatigue.
  • Eating food that is too heavy before driving can make you tired and drowsy.
  • Taking alcohol, no matter how little in quantity, as well as excessive use of caffeine, which is present in coffee, tea, and energy drinks, could have side effects which could include getting drowsy while driving.
  • Sleep apnea, a sleeping disorder that makes a person feel sleepy throughout the day, could also pose a threat to whoever has this condition. Symptoms of apnea include feeling constantly tired during the day and struggling to stay awake during the day. Most people who suffer this condition are middle-aged men who are often overweight with symptoms of snoring, restless sleep and pauses in breathing while asleep.

What symptoms should you look out for to know when fatigue sets in?

When you start to feel any of the following ways while driving, then you are fatigued and should be mindful of your safety and that of your fellow road users:
  • Microsleeps are periods of sleep which last between 2 to 30 seconds, commonly referred to as “nodding off” or “dozing off”. They make you lose focus, stare blankly, or make your head fall off your neck. They usually occur at times when a driver is typically supposed to be asleep and struggling to keep awake. During this period, a driver will not notice a traffic light, dangers on the road, potholes, or a road curve, thereby causing harm to self and other road users.
  • Sore/heavy eyes and constant yawning;
  • Drifting off your lane;
  • Feeling restless, impatient and irritable;
  • Daydreaming and inability to focus on the road;
  • Loss of motivation;
  • Inability to remember the last couple of miles;
  • Varying driving speed.

There are a lot of risks a sleepy or drowsy driver could pose to herself and other road users, the worst of which is death. A driver who drifts off lane could run into another driver, causing a collision which could be fatal. A collision could also lead to legal issues for a driver, although there are no legislations against drowsy driving, but causing an accident or damaging government property by running into a side pavement, for example, could lead to legal issues which can result in the issuance of fines; and for a driver who is found faulty of a fatal crash, prison sentence could be incurred.

In preventing drowsiness while driving, a driver should
  • Prepare beforehand by getting enough sleep prior to embarking on the journey;
  • Make sure he gets enough regular sleep;
  • Not start a long trip after a long day’s work;
  • Not drink alcohol before embarking;
  • Take one or two cups of coffee, but not in excess;
  • Not drive between midnight and 6:00 am;
  • Drive with a partner on long trips, and switch driver at intervals;
  • Not drive when she naturally will be sleeping; and
  • Should not travel for more than 8 hours in a day.

The following tips should also be followed if you start to feel drowsy while driving:
  • Park at a safe spot and take a quick nap, between 15 and 30 minutes, note that you might feel dazed for a couple of minutes after waking up;
  • Or simply take a walk, just for a couple of minutes to wear off the sleep;
  • Eat a well-balanced meal;
  • Cool the interior of the car;
  • Stay hydrated by drinking enough water.

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