Avoid Drowsy Driving

With the end of Daylight Savings Time, AAA offers tips for staying alert, driving at night

BOISE – With the end of Daylight Savings Time, AAA is reminding drivers to get plenty of rest before they get behind the wheel.

According to the Idaho Transportation Department, driver fatigue was a factor in more than 400 single-car crashes last year, or about 5% of the total.  But AAA says that could be just the tip of the iceberg.

“Drowsiness can lead to other dangerous actions on the road, such as drifting from your lane, failing to reduce speed where appropriate, and overcorrecting – all of which can increase the chances of serious injury,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde.  “Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.”

According to previous research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 95% of drivers view drowsy driving as very or extremely dangerous, but 17% admitted to driving when they were so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at least once in the past 30 days.

AAA warns that caffeinated beverages, listening or singing along to the radio, and even blowing cold air in your face will not keep you awake for long.  And research shows that drivers who sleep less than five hours have a crash risk that is similar to someone who is driving drunk.  For most people, experts recommend seven hours of sleep for maintaining energy and focus behind the wheel.

Nighttime driving tips

  • See and be seen – make sure your windshield is clean, and that wipers, headlights, taillights, and mirrors are clean and working properly.
  • Avoid the glare. Prolonged exposure to headlights can temporarily affect your vision at night, particularly as the eye’s lens hardens and as resistance to glare declines with age.  Don’t stare at oncoming headlights – shift your gaze to the right side of the road until the other vehicle has passed.  Use road markings to guide your vehicle.
  • Restore your headlights. Over time, direct sunlight and hot temperatures can cause headlight lenses to become cloudy or yellowed, blocking up to 80% of usable light.  In fact, deterioration can start in as little as three years.  Use a polishing kit from an auto parts store to return your headlights to factory new.
  • Slow down. Speeding can cause you to “overdrive” the effective range of your headlights, limiting your ability to see and react to road conditions.
  • Avoid driving after your usual bedtime and take frequent breaks during long trips. Don’t wait until you’re exhausted to find a safe place to pull over and get some rest.

“The time change can really mess with people’s internal clocks.  Please don’t think that somehow you will be the exception to the rule – everyone needs a good night’s sleep,” Conde said.  “Drive at times of day when you are normally awake and avoid heavy meals before you drive.  Please ask your doctor how the medications you use may affect your ability to stay alert behind the wheel.”