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Staying Alert & Fit to Drive

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Driving a vehicle for long hours is tiring. Even the best of drivers will become less alert. However, there are things that good drivers do to help stay alert and safe.

2.23.1 – Be Ready to Drive

Get Enough Sleep. Sleep is not like money. You can’t save it up ahead of time and you can’t borrow it. But, just as with money, you can go into debt with it. If you don’t sleep enough, you “owe” more sleep to yourself. This debt can only be paid off by sleeping. You can’t overcome it with willpower, and it won’t go away by itself. The average person needs seven or eight hours of sleep every 24 hours. Leaving on a long trip when you’re already tired is dangerous. If you have a long trip scheduled, make sure that you get enough sleep before you go.

Schedule Trips Safely. Try to arrange your schedule so you are not in “sleep debt” before a long trip. Your body gets used to sleeping during certain hours. If you are driving during those hours, you will be less alert. If possible, try to schedule trips for the hours you are normally awake. Many heavy motor vehicle accidents occur between midnight and 6 a.m. Tired drivers can easily fall asleep at these times, especially if they don’t regularly drive at those hours. Trying to push on and finish a long trip at these times can be very dangerous.

Exercise Regularly. Resistance to fatigue and improved sleep are among the benefits of regular exercise. Try to incorporate exercise into your daily life. Instead of sitting and watching TV in your sleeper, walk or jog a few laps around the parking lot. A little bit of daily exercise will give you energy throughout the day.

Eat Healthy. It is often hard for drivers to find healthy food. But with a little extra effort, you can eat healthy, even on the road. Try to find restaurants with healthy, balanced meals. If you must eat at fast-food restaurants, pick low-fat items. Another simple way to reduce your caloric intake is to eliminate fattening snacks. Instead, try fruit or vegetables.

Avoid Medication. Many medicines can make you sleepy. Those that do have a label warning against operating vehicles or machinery. The most common medicine of this type is an ordinary cold pill. If you have to drive with a cold, you are better off suffering from the cold than from the effects of the medicine.

Visit Your Doctor. Regular checkups literally can be lifesavers. Illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and skin and colon cancer can be detected easily and treated if found in time.

You should consult your physician or a local sleep disorder center if you suffer from frequent daytime sleepiness, have difficulty sleeping at night, take frequent naps, fall asleep at strange times, snore loudly, gasp and choke in your sleep, and/or wake up feeling as though you have not had enough sleep.

2.23.2 – While You Are Driving

Keep Cool. A hot, poorly ventilated vehicle can make you sleepy. Keep the window or vent cracked open or use the air conditioner, if you have one.

Take Breaks. Short breaks can keep you alert. But the time to take them is before you feel really drowsy or tired. Stop often. Walk around and inspect your vehicle. It may help to do some physical exercises.

Be sure to take a mid-afternoon break and plan to sleep between midnight and 6 a.m.

Recognize the Danger Signals of Drowsy Driving. Sleep is not voluntary. If you’re drowsy, you can fall asleep and never even know it. If you are drowsy, you are likely to have “micro sleeps”–brief naps that last around four or five seconds. At 55 miles an hour, that’s more than 100 yards, and plenty of time for a crash. Even if you are not aware of being drowsy, if you have a sleep debt you are still at risk. Here are a few ways to tell if you’re about to fall asleep. If you experience any of these danger signs, take them as a warning that you could fall asleep without meaning to.

  • Your eyes close or go out of focus by themselves.
  • You have trouble keeping your head up.
  • You can’t stop yawning.
  • You have wandering, disconnected thoughts.
  • You don’t remember driving the last few miles.
  • You drift between lanes, tailgate, or miss traffic signs.
  • You keep jerking the truck back into the lane.
  • You have drifted off the road and narrowly missed crashing.

If you have even one of these symptoms, you may be in danger of falling asleep. Pull off the road in a safe place and take a nap.

2.23.3 – When You Do Become Sleepy

When you are sleepy, trying to “push on” is far more dangerous than most drivers think. It is a major cause of fatal accidents. Here are some important rules to follow.

Stop to Sleep. When your body needs sleep, sleep is the only thing that will work. If you have to make a stop anyway, make it whenever you feel the first signs of sleepiness, even if it is earlier than you planned. By getting up a little earlier the next day, you can keep on schedule without the danger of driving while you are not alert.

Take a Nap. If you can’t stop for the night, at least pull off at a safe place, such as a rest area or truck stop, and take a nap. A nap as short as a half-hour will do more to overcome fatigue than a half-hour coffee stop.

Avoid Drugs. There are no drugs that can overcome being tired. While they may keep you awake for a while, they won’t make you alert. And eventually, you’ll be even more tired than if you hadn’t taken them at all. Sleep is the only thing that can overcome fatigue.

Do Not. Do not rely on coffee or another source of caffeine to keep you awake. Do not count on the radio, an open window, or other tricks to keep you awake.

2.23.4 – Illness

Once in a while, you may become so ill that you cannot operate a motor vehicle safely. If this happens to you, you must not drive. However, in case of an emergency, you may drive to the nearest place where you can safely stop.