Falling asleep while driving is a leading cause of car crashes and, after alcohol, the second most common cause of vehicle fatalities. A driver who falls asleep at the wheel is even more dangerous than a drunken one. What can cause you to drowse at the wheel? Fatigue, the monotony of the road, the drone of the engine, an uncomfortably warm or stuffy environment, an alcoholic drink (even one you might have had many hours before leaving), lack of sleep, or medications such as antihistamines, certain blood pressure medicines, or a sleeping pill you took the night before can all produce drowsiness. Some drivers believe that using the cruise control makes them drowsy, though there’s no scientific evidence for this.

How do you know if you’re about to fall asleep? Watch for any of these signals:

*You suddenly realize you can’t recall the last few miles of highway, and you’re not sure where you are,

° You “come to” as your car veers.

° Your head nods.

° You notice an obstacle but barely manage to brake fast enough because your reaction time has slowed.

Your first reaction to any of these symptoms should be to pull safely over to the roadside and take stock. Obviously if you have a passenger who’s also a qualified driver, turn the wheel over to him. If not, consider stopping for the night. If you don’t feel up to driving a short distance or aren’t sure where the closest lodgings might be, wait for the highway patrol and ask for help. Or find a secure place (a roadside rest area, for example) and take a nap in the locked car. When you wake up, take a walk if possible, or do some stretching or other simple exercises in the car. Have something to eat and drink as soon as you can. A radio can be helpful if you turn it loud and sing along, and so can opening the window and letting fresh air hit your face.

Generally speaking, it’s good policy not to drive long hours after drink, or to leave for a long drive Friday night after work. If you do plan to drive long distances, don’t drink alcohol — even the day before. Don’t drive at all if you’re taking medications that induce drowsiness. Don’t rely on any kind of drug to keep you awake. If you’re really tired, even caffeine won’t keep you from falling asleep. Whether you feel sleepy or not, it’s always wise to break up a long drive with rest stops, occasional snacks, and some stretching or walking outside the car.

Article extracted from this publication >> September 9, 1988