Can’t remember the last time you pulled over for a break? Constantly yawning? You could be at risk of drowsy driving – in other words, driving when you’re too tired.
Drowsy driving is a serious safety hazard on the roads. Worryingly, driving while sleep-deprived is surprisingly common in Australia, with 20% of respondents to a one survey admitting they have fallen asleep at the wheel at least once. What’s more, 29% of people drive when drowsy at least every month.
Most people have experienced driving while tired at some point in their lives. Maybe you’ve had a long day at work or you’re up early for a road trip. Whatever the reason, drowsy driving can lead to slower reaction times, impaired judgement, and even falling asleep at the wheel. Drivers who fall asleep can cause serious accidents, injuring or even killing themselves and others. Drowsy driving is a preventable danger, and we all need to do our part to keep our roads safe.
But how can you tell if you’re too tired to be behind the wheel? Here are some warning signs to watch out for:
1. If your eyes are getting heavy or you’re frequently blinking
If you’re driving and find yourself feeling tired, there are a few physical signs that you can look for to see if it’s time to pull over and take a break. One of these is frequent blinking or eyes that feel heavy. This is caused by your body’s need for more sleep, and it’s a sign that you should take a break soon. Another physical sign of fatigue is yawning. If you’re yawning more than usual, it means your body is telling you it needs rest. Driving while tired can be very dangerous, so it’s important to listen to your body and take the necessary precautions.
2. You’re having a hard time focusing on the road and are making navigational mistakes
You might also notice that your thoughts are wandering or that you’re having trouble keeping your attention on the road. If you’ve missed a turn or forgotten where you’re going, you may be getting tired and struggling to focus.
You’re much more likely to make mistakes as you get tired. After around 18 hours of being awake, studies have found the effects on reaction time, vigilance, multi-tasking, and hand-eye coordination are comparable to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%. After 20 hours, drowsy drivers are impaired to a similar level of a 0.08% blood alcohol content.
3. Your hands are shaking
Have you ever been driving along and suddenly realised your hands were shaking? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, trembling hands is a very common symptom of fatigue.
As our bodies become tired, they start to lose muscle control. This can cause our hands to shake, especially when we’re doing something that requires fine motor skills, like driving. Drivers who may struggle with driving fatigue the most, and need to watch out for such signs, include: workers with rotating night shifts, commercial drivers and people with untreated sleep disorders.
4. If you’re swerving or drifting out of your lane
If you’re swerving or drifting out of your lane, it’s important to take corrective action as soon as possible. The first step is to check your mirrors and make sure you’re not in the path of oncoming traffic. If you are, gently steer your vehicle back into your own lane.
Next, focus on staying awake and alert. If you’re feeling tired, pull over at the next safe place and rest. Coffee or energy drinks can also help to keep you awake and focused, but they aren’t a long-term solution.
If you find yourself swerving or drifting out of your lane on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor or sleep specialist to see if you have a sleep disorder. Taking steps to address a sleep disorder can help improve your overall health and well-being – and make driving safer for everyone on the road.
If you start to experience any of these symptoms, it’s time to pull over and take a break. It’s also a good idea to avoid driving late at night or early in the morning when you’re likely to be more tired. And, of course, if you’re taking medication that makes you drowsy, don’t get behind the wheel until it has worn off. By being aware of the dangers of drowsy driving, you can help keep yourself and others safe on the road.