Staying Alert & Safe at the Wheel
Driving when tired is reckoned to be a factor in a quarter of all fatal collisions and you are 50% more likely to be involved in a serious accident when fatigued. When tiredness is such a huge potential killer, you need to take action to stay alert and safe.
Plenty of Sleep
The first and most important step you can take is to get plenty of sleep before undertaking any journey. A full eight hours of sleep at night is not just a myth, medical tests show the human body needs time to rest and recharge and eight hours is the optimum period. Even with a good night’s rest, you can still feel drowsy when driving, whether it’s because the road is monotonous or it’s the end of a long day as you head home. Driving in the late afternoon happens to coincide with a natural lull in the human body’s cycle of fatigue, so before heading home take the time to get some fresh air. This could mean parking the car a little further from work so you have to walk a couple of extra minutes, but the benefit is it gets your heart pumping. This fuels your body with more oxygen and will help you concentrate more while driving.
Take a Break
It’s also a good idea to avoid driving between midnight and 6am as this is when your brain tells your body it should be asleep and tucked up in bed. If you do have to drive during these hours, as many truck and delivery drivers do, make sure you get to bed a bit earlier and take frequent breaks. A 15-minute break every couple of hours is the right balance for most drivers. Make sure it involves getting out the car, too. When you do stop, don’t just fill up with petrol and head straight back out onto the road. Park the car, get some fresh air, have a coffee and something light to eat. Avoid heavy, stodgy foods, though, as they draw blood away from your brain and limbs to your stomach to digest the meal. It’s the reason we feel sleepy after a big Sunday lunch. If you do feel drowsy, take a nap. Pull in somewhere safe, such as motorway services or a layby, but never on the hard shoulder or just the side of the road. Twenty minutes of shut-eye can be enough to restore your energy levels.
Drink Plenty of Coffee
Coffee is another way to pep up your alertness, especially if you drink one and then have a 20-minute nap. It takes about this time for the caffeine to get into your system, so you might as well top up on sleep until the coffee kicks in. Energy drinks with caffeine and lots of sugar give a similar hit at first, but the surge of sugar energy wears off quickly and can leave you more tired than before, so avoid these drinks when you feel low on alertness.
If you cannot reach somewhere for a nap or coffee straight away, open the window for some cool air and have a singsong. Another good tip is to describe what you can see, potential hazards and how you would deal with them. You might look a bit daft talking to yourself, but it’s a lot better than being in a collision because you drifted off at the wheel.