Fatigue can be fatal

Your eyelids droop and your head starts to nod. Yawning becomes almost constant and your vision seems blurry. You blink hard, focus your eyes and suddenly realize that you've veered onto the shoulder or into oncoming traffic for a moment and quickly straighten the wheel. This time you were lucky; next time you could become the latest victim of drowsy driving.

How many times have you caught yourself staring fixedly at the road ahead, hypnotized by the monotony of the highway? Good drivers who spend long hours on the road realize that fatigue can be fatal. Extreme fatigue attacks a driver's mental ability and muscular coordination. Fatigue hampers a driver's ability to judge distances, speed, or driving conditions. These circumstances can lead to a serious accident. Many times fatigue may also produce a mental state which will deceive drivers into believing that they are capable of driving safely. When tired, drivers often imagine conditions that do not exist. A reaction to some imaginary condition may be disastrous. 

Defensive driving requires you to know and understand the dangers of driving while overly tired or fatigued. Operating a vehicle while you are fatigued is dangerous for both you and for others who may be on the road. Traffic safety experts say that fatigued or drowsy driving may be a factor in more than 100,000 crashes every year—crashes that result in 40,000 injuries and more than 1,500 deaths. A National Sleep Foundation study finds that 60 percent of adults admit to driving while drowsy, and 37 percent report having fallen asleep at the wheel. To prevent accidents due to fatigue, take some simple precautions:

  • Get adequate sleep — most adults need 7-9 hours to maintain proper alertness during the day
  • Schedule proper breaks — about every 100 miles or 2 hours during long trips
  • Arrange for a travel companion — someone to talk with and share the driving
  • Avoid alcohol and sedating medications — check your labels or ask your doctor

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) states that, “No driver should operate a motor vehicle, and a motor carrier should not require or permit a driver to operate a motor vehicle, while the driver's ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue as to make it unsafe to operate the motor vehicle.” In fact, FMCSA has established definite time periods for maximum driving. Why have these regulations been established? Experts have concluded that driver performance deteriorates, driver alertness diminishes, and accident probability increases as driving time increases.

All drivers should be aware of the signs of fatigue so that they may take measures to combat it. While you are still alert, you will sit relatively quietly in your seat. As you begin to tire, you become restless, squirm in your seat, stretch, rub your eyes, and maybe start to crack your knuckles. A driver may experience short lapses of attention, but as fatigue sets in, you pay less and less attention to the instrument panel and the rear and side view mirrors. A driver may even stare fixedly ahead, actually appearing to be in a trance. It is, at this point, that the driving patterns change. There is less steering, irregular or erratic speed changes, weaving back and forth, and finally, crossing the center line or drifting off the road entirely. Fatigue may also produce a mental state that will deceive drivers into believing that they are capable of driving safely. Fatigue also hampers the driver's ability to correctly judge distances, speed or driving conditions. Many times, fatigue may also cause drivers to imagine conditions that do not exist. A reaction to an imaginary condition has caused many serious accidents. This is the time when a fatigued driver is a hazard to himself as well as others.

Unfortunately though, many people can’t tell if or when they are about to fall asleep. And if sleepiness comes on when driving, many may say to themselves, “I can handle this, I’ll be okay.” By doing this, they are putting themselves and others in danger.

Here are some signs that you should stop and rest:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
  • Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
  • Feeling restless and irritable

And here are some of the precautions you can take to combat fatigue:

  • You should not operate a vehicle when tired, ill, or when any other condition makes your driving ability less than 100%. Be especially careful during late night, early morning, and mid-afternoon hours when drowsy driving accidents are most likely to happen.
  • You should not operate a vehicle beyond the hours of service limitations (10 hours- with 8 hours rest) developed by the Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
  • You should take frequent breaks. Any activity which substitutes a different physical act for the monotony of driving helps refresh a driver.
  • Stop and take a short nap of 15 or 20 minutes if you're tired and having trouble keeping your eyes open.  Drink a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage. Water may even be enough to increase your alertness.
  • Fatigue can come on very quickly. When driving long distances, get out of your vehicle every couple of hours to stretch and refresh.
  • Drivers should get off the road before they fall asleep instead of afterwards. A driver who is tired should pull well off the road and take an extended rest break.
  • Set realistic and safe daily mileage goals.
  • Do not use alcohol or drugs of any kind, at any time.
  • Avoid medications that can cause drowsiness.

Many drivers feel that drugs can increase alertness and efficiency so that they can operate a vehicle beyond their limitations. Drugs may increase alertness for a short period. However, their use is often followed by headaches, dizziness, agitation or irritability, decreased power of concentration, and marked fatigue. An important factor to note is that the use of drugs can interfere with the body's normal warning symptoms of drowsiness and fatigue. Drivers can use up their body’s energy without realizing it until they may suddenly collapse. They are given a false sense of self confidence and do not realize that their driving ability and alertness are decreasing. Don't rely on something that provides only false security. Learn to recognize the signs of fatigue, follow safe driving practices, and get the rest required to safely operate your motor vehicle.

Have you ever driven while drowsy? Have you ever almost fallen asleep at the wheel? Remember these tips to avoid accidents when you're tired.

Share this knowledge with others, especially those who may be leaving on a long trip. Your knowledge may help prevent a serious accident.






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