Many people find driving to be a necessary part of life, whether it's to get to work, school, or to shuttle friends or family back and forth to where they need to go. Nonetheless, driving remains one of the riskiest endeavors most people embark on regularly, with traffic fatalities remaining a leading cause of death all around the world. Many such fatalities occur because of drowsy drivers who fall asleep at the wheel, and nearly every experienced driver has at least one memory of driving while fatigued.
Why does driving make you sleepy, anyway, and what can you do to mitigate road fatigue on long trips? Here's why driving makes you sleepy, and how you can stay wide awake when cruising the open road.
Cars literally lull you into sleep
If you ever imagined that the thrum of your vehicle's engine and the warmth of your seat-heater were lulling you into sleep, you were noticing a real-world phenomenon that's becoming increasingly studied. Researchers have demonstrated that the physical vibrations you experience when sitting in a car can literally lull you to sleep in certain circumstances, with some drivers and passengers finding themselves impacted by sleepiness just 15 minutes into driving, according to a recent small study.
Researchers from RMIT University in Australia have published a report that indicates cars serve as nothing more than rolling snooze mobiles. Nearly 20 percent of road fatalities analyzed involved driver fatigue to some extent, so researchers hoped to study just exactly how automobiles were making drivers sleepy at the wheel. What they found was interesting; the physical vibrations of a moving car, most of which are caused by the engine's rumbling, literally lull you to sleep and make you physically relaxed. The soft vibrations cause slow but subtle drowsiness, with researchers claiming that driving for as little as 15 minutes may be enough to impact you.
Even those who are well-rested and healthy are susceptible to sleepiness if they're exposed to low frequency vibrations, according to one of the study's lead authors. The researchers claimed that "in half an hour, [car vibrations are] making a significant impact on your ability to stay concentrated and alerted." There are other reasons besides the vibrations caused by our engine to think that driving makes you sleepy, too.
Eye strain, for instance, is something that many drivers report suffering from, especially over long-term trips that feature driving on endless stretches of road for hours at a time. Staring at nothing but the pavement in front of you for hours on end can be a drowsy experience, and many drivers stranded on the highway for a long period of time can attest to how dull things can get.
The problem of drowsy driving
Besides being irksome and literally tiresome, the problem of drowsy driving is that it makes our roadways substantially more dangerous. Research from the CDC indicates that drowsy drivers have slowly instincts, can't pay as much attention to the road in the first place, and can't always rely on good decision-making abilities when operating heavy machinery if they're particularly fatigued. An estimated 1 in every 25 drivers surveyed reported temporarily falling asleep at the wheel while driving in the previous 30 days, so you may be at risk of a collision even if you're bright and alert on the road.
Some drivers are substantially more likely to drive while drowsy than others. Especially driving large commercial trucks, drivers who are expected to deal with long hauls are almost universally familiar with drowsy driving, an unfortunate fact that makes the industry dangerous to many who rely on it for employment. Truck drivers who spend days at a time behind the wheel can fall asleep on the highway to disastrous results, with a truck accident occurring every 16 minutes. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have issued guidelines for an hours of service schedule that all truck drivers must obey for safety reasons.
Given that truckers are more susceptible to drowsy driving and more likely to cause extreme damage to life or property in the event of a collision, thanks to the large nature of their vehicles, it stands to reason that we can learn a thing or two from the truckers who have mastered the art of fighting driving fatigue. Those who are struggling to stay awake on the open road may find it worthwhile to browse some tips from truckers when it comes to fending off driving fatigue and driving safely. Classic tips like loading up on caffeine aren't enough; sometimes, you need to learn how to rejigger your sleep schedule as is necessary and will need to know when to call it a quits and stop driving for safety reasons.
Driving makes us sleepy for a number of reasons, ranging from the vibrations of a car to the fatigue and boredom induced by sitting still for hours on end. Driving safely requires that you be vigilant about driving fatigue, so don't be afraid to pull over the next time you feel sleepy on the road.