driver fatigue

Photo credit: 123RF / Katarzyna Bialasiewicz

Driver fatigue is a major problem in the U.S. In 2013, 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths were caused by people driving while fatigued, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Driver fatigue isn’t just a problem for long-distance drivers, such long-haul truckers, salespeople who travel within multi-state territories, or people driving on vacation. Short-distance drives can make us equally as drowsy, especially after a long, stressful day at work. According to the National Safety Council, 37% of drivers have nodded off or fallen asleep at the wheel at least once during their lifetime of driving, and 8% have done so in the past 6 months.

Causes of Driver Fatigue

Some causes of driver fatigue include:

  • Not getting enough quality sleep.
  • Driving when you would normally be sleeping.
  • Sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

Symptoms of Driver Fatigue

Some symptoms of fatigue include:

  • Yawning
  • Blinking more frequently
  • Sore or heavy eyes
  • Impatience
  • Stiffness and cramps
  • Nodding off

How Fatigue Affects Your Driving

When you’re tired while driving, you may:

  • Have slower reaction times.
  • Slow down or speed up your driving speed.
  • Find yourself daydreaming or not concentrating on your driving.
  • Have impaired driving performance such as poor gear changes or problems with distance perception.
  • Drift into another lane or hit the rumble strip on the side of the road.

Tips to Beat Driver Fatigue

Here are some tips on how to stay awake while you’re driving:

  • Get enough sleep – preferably 7 or 8 hours of sleep the night before a long drive.


    Photo credit: Denis Raev

  • Don’t drive alone. Take turns driving with a passenger.
  • Avoid long drives at night, especially between midnight and 6 a.m.
  • Adjust the vehicle’s temperature to keep yourself awake and alert. Keep the inside of the vehicle cool in the summer and warm (but not too warm) in the winter.
  • Turn up the radio and switch stations frequently. Avoid soft music.
  • Turn off the cruise control. Stay involved in your driving.
  • Watch your posture. Your head should be up and your shoulders back. Your lower back should be against the seat. Keep your legs flexed at a 45-degree angle.
  • Take a 20-minute break at least every 2 hours. Get out of the car. Get some fresh air. Do stretches. Walk around for at least 5 minutes. Exercise helps fight fatigue.
  • Avoid heavy meals. Eat light meals and snacks. Don’t drink alcohol.
  • Wear sunglasses to fight glare, but not at night.
  • Don’t fight fatigue. Stop and rest. Even a 20-minute nap may refresh you enough to drive to hotel or motel.

By following these tips to fight driver fatigue, you can help keep yourself from falling asleep at the wheel and causing an accident.

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Your feet can get tired and cramp while driving for extended periods, so make sure to rejuvenate them when you stop for a break. Take off your shoes and stretch your toes for 5 to 10 minutes.

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Disclaimer: The information included in this article is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.