It’s the last leg of the journey, and you can feel yourself starting to fade. You’re starting to see things out of the corner of your eye, and the road noise is lulling you to sleep. You shake your head, slap yourself, and turn up the radio—anything to make it down the last stretch of I-635—after all, you’re not going to get paid if you don’t get your rig to Kansas City on time.
This is the daily—or rather, nightly—reality for many truckers on America’s highways. The law says to pull over and get some sleep, but your company relies on you to make your deadlines, and long hours on the road mean that fatigue is just part of your job. Is there any alternative to getting off the road when you can’t stay awake to help prevent a truck accident?
Most Drowsy Driving “Cures” Don’t Actually Work
Unfortunately, research has shown time and again that there is no substitute for sleep—especially when operating a two-ton rig. Truckers may blast loud music, crank up the air conditioning, even sing loudly to the radio, but they’re only buying a few minutes’ worth of alertness behind the wheel.
Here are a few more drowsy driving “cures” that are little more than oldwives’ tales:
- Eating. The action of eating may keep a trucker awake for a few moments, but having a full stomach will increase dopamine levels, making his body send additional sleep signals to his brain.
- Stretching. It feels good to stretch your tired muscles, but the risk of losing control of the rig as you contort your body behind the wheel outweighs any potential benefits.
- Rolling down the window. The blast of air from the open window makes it harder to fall asleep, but it also makes it harder to see. Lack of sleep dries out a driver’s eyes, making them irritated and watery—and a constant breeze is likely to compromise vision even further.
Best Options for Tired Drivers: Sip, Stop, Switch!
Here are the best ways for drivers to combat sleepiness on a long haul:
- Use your copilot. Let someone else in the car who is rested take over.
- Get a coffee. While not as effective as rest, caffeine can be an effective short-term drowsy-driving solution.
- One-two punch. A 30-minute nap followed by a cup of coffee can help “reset” the body’s internal clock, buying a few more hours of safer driving until a full night’s sleep is had.
The best thing a tired trucker—or any other tired driver—can do is pull over for a nap. As little as 30 minutes of sleep can increase your reaction time and driving responses, while “toughing it out” can cost you anything from a night in the hospital to the rest of your life.
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