“Tricks” like opening the window, turning up the radio, and pinching or slapping yourself work only for a few seconds or minutes. If you experience any of the warning signs of fatigue, you must take immediate action! Find a safe place where you can stop driving and pull off at an exit or rest area, or find a safe place to sleep overnight. We really can’t control when we fall asleep, so trying to trick ourselves to stay awake is random and unreliable. Even a brief “microsleep” may have deadly consequences.
The best prevention for drowsy driving is simply to get enough restful sleep on a regular basis. Adults generally need about 8 hours of sleep to maintain alertness through a normal day. Drivers who start a trip with less than 6 hours of sleep TRIPLE their chances of a sleep-related crash. If you are planning a longer trip with many hours behind the wheel, at least two restful nights in a row before your trip are even better than one! Avoid driving during your body’s “down time.” Find a place to sleep between midnight and 6:00 am, and take a mid-afternoon break. Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and comfortable to ensure restful sleep.
Drowsiness is the last thing that happens before you fall asleep, whether you want to or not. To avoid becoming the next drowsy-driving victim or causing harm to someone else, learn the WARNING SIGNS OF FATIGUE:
Pick out some audio books for listening in the car. Visit your local library and/or download a couple of your favorites. Many people find that listening to a great book keeps them more alert and focused. Visit the ABLE library if there is one at your local dog event.
Arrange to have a travel companion to talk to and share the driving. Bring an audio book you can both enjoy. When your traveling companion is awake and alert, have him/her take a turn driving and get some needed rest. Ask the second-shift driver to take care of last-minute details so the first-shift driver can get some extra sleep.
Run errands like putting gas in the car, going to the bank for money, stopping by the library for audio books, packing suitcases, or shopping for items you may need for your trip several days ahead of time so that the night before the trip the driver has time to get plenty of rest. Have someone else pack the car the night before so the driver can get to bed early. On the return trip, whenever possible stay overnight before a long drive home.
Caffeine is available in different amounts and forms (such as soda, coffee, and chewing gum). The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours. It takes about 30 minutes for caffeine’s alerting effect to kick in. While consuming a caffeinated drink and taking a nap can often help, make sure you are awake and alert enough to continue driving. If not, find the nearest place to stay over, and resume driving only after getting some restful sleep.
Caffeine can temporarily make us feel more alert by blocking the receptors in the brain that regulate sleep. However, it won’t have much of an effect on people who consume it regularly. Restrict your caffeine intake the day before a long trip. Your brain will then get a bigger kick when you consume caffeine. Remember that caffeine can’t substitute for sleep. Even if you take caffeine, if you have serious sleep debt, you are likely to experience a microsleep—an involuntary “snoozing” episode.
Eat small, light meals and avoid fatty foods while traveling.
Even small amounts of alcohol or sedating medication (such as cold tablets or antihistamines) may impair performance. Avoid using them when you know you will be driving. Sedatives and drowsy driving are the worst possible mix.
To stimulate your body and brain, schedule breaks to walk and stretch about every 100 miles or 2 hours. After waking up from a nap, take a short walk or do some jumping jacks before getting back behind the wheel. Note that exercise without napping first may not be effective for some people.
Power naps capture the benefits of the first two of five stages in a sleep cycle that helps you “recharge your batteries.” These initial two stages occur within the first 20 minutes of a sleep cycle. It is critical that a power nap is limited to the beginning of a sleep cycle, ending before deep sleep begins. Taking naps for 30 minutes or longer can cause you to enter a normal sleep cycle without completing it. This results in sleep inertia, which can make you feel even more groggy than before the nap. To get the most benefit from power naps, limit them to 20 minutes.
Take a caffeine nap by consuming caffeine just before taking a short nap to get the benefits of both. To stimulate your body and brain after the nap, do some physical activity such jumping jacks or running in place.
Only drive when you are alert and focused on the road ahead. If you are fooling with the radio, texting, putting on makeup, or otherwise distracted, pull over and take care of whatever needs to be addressed before you resume driving.
It is always better to have sleep in large blocks at night, but taking a power nap at performance events may help you be more alert when it comes time to drive home. Often at trials the same people volunteer throughout the day to keep the event running. Next time, if you don’t normally volunteer, offer to do so. If more participants shared the workload, all volunteers would have time to rest or take a power nap during the event. Together, by spreading the volunteer tasks among more workers, we can prevent a friend from driving home tired and drowsy. On the flip side, if you volunteer to the point of exhaustion, learn to pace yourself. If you have a long drive home, volunteer for one or two classes per day but also plan time to rest so you will have no problems making it home safely!
If there is an ABLE library at the event, plan to exchange audio books so you have something to listen to during your drive time.
SHARE THE ROAD. Your decisions affect everyone in the car with you . . . everyone on the road near you . . . everyone who cares about them . . . and everyone who cares about you.
SHARE THE DRIVE. Be part of the solution by being a responsible driver and taking turns when driving with others.
SHARE THE INFO. The Live to Run Again campaign focuses on participants in canine performance events because people traveling to and from these events tend to drive in the early morning and late at night and have a lot in common with the groups who have a higher percentage of drowsy-driving incidents. By sharing this information with others, we can increase more awareness in the general population and save lives. We encourage you to discuss these ideas with family, friends, and co-workers to educate as many people as possible about the dangers of driving drowsy and the importance of being alert and undistracted while driving. Send them this Web site link. Especially remind young drivers, shift workers, truck drivers, and those who drive odd hours or have multiple jobs.
The Live to Run Again Web site and all materials distributed by Live to Run Again are solely intended to be part of a public education campaign to save lives by raising awareness about the dangers of drowsy driving.
These materials are not intended to substitute for medical, legal, or driver safety advice from a certified professional.
The board of directors and the authors and editors of any Live to Run Again materials assume no responsibility of any kind for the actions or non-actions taken by the people who have visited this site or read the materials, and no one shall be entitled to a claim for any loss, injury, or damages claimed to be the result of detrimental reliance on any of this information. The information provided is intended to be correct and useful to the general public, but no guarantee is made regarding the accuracy of the text. Any errors are unintentional and will be corrected as needed if brought to the attention of Live to Run Again.
Links to the Live to Run Again Web site may be added to other Web sites as part of our public education campaign, but no text or materials, in whole or in part, may be copied and used directly on other Web sites or in distributed materials without the specific written permission of Live to Run Again.
Featured Dogs: Dezi and 2B, loved by Linda Husson