Having driven some long hauls in the last couple of years I have really been thinking about how it is one can determine if they are fit to do so BEFORE you start out let alone tell if you need to pull over and rest a while en route.
There are road signs that remind us not to drive while we are tired but how do you really tell?
Nobody talks about it.
It's not until you study for your heavy vehicle license that you learn the rudimentary laws surrounding how much rest you must have per hours of continuous driving but this alone will not prevent all the accidents and fatalities on the road.
Rules are generic; drivers however are human.
As an individual we need to take a good honest look at ourselves to evaluate whether we should be on the road. We need to ignore time constraints and financial (dis-)incentives and get real. Those we travel with and the other drivers on the road are counting on us.
Here are some of the down-to-earth preparations and considerations we have when we travel to help you figure out yours:
ALCOHOL & DRUGS
Some folks have a no-alcohol-after-a-meal-the-night-before policy (we're basically tee-totallers so that's not an active item on our checklist). Check any medication for side effects of drowsiness too.
In our household we have always had the guideline of going to bed by 10pm the night before a long journey. As we get older and/or our lives busier we are increasing our preparation to 2 nights earlier to bed for both drivers.
If we don't sleep we may postpone our departure, until the afternoon and the main driver has had a day nap; or to the next day.
What does not sleeping well mean?
- Tossing and turning
- Broken / interrupted sleep
- Waking up feeling like you have been hit by a truck
- Mentally feeling like you don't want to get up
- Cursing your alarm
With good sleep you ought to be able to wake up naturally in the morning and have the physical and mental energy and enthusiasm to get up. This does not mean relying on your morning coffee or hoping the running hot water from a shower will 'get you going'.
SLOW or SLUGGISH
Once you are up, if you feel slow or sluggish that's another sign. Slow to process what someone else is saying to you or to construct a coherent sentence in reply; sluggish to physically move through your routine or think what needs to be done next.
I like the idea of being technical about it and use the ruler drop test to gauge the speed of your reactions (but you'd need to have done this prior to gain a baseline value).
DENSE or DRAINED
If you feel dense or drained in the eye region / face or head in general don't drive.
So you've passed all your checks and you are on the road, what then? How do you know when you should stop?
Think about the following:
- Veering left or right
- Missing speed signs - driving too fast or too slowly
- Miscalculating distances especially when turning
- Hearing the rumble strip (bumps sometimes on the left hand side of the road to mark the edge of the lane that make a rumble when driven over)
- Feeling like you NEED a coffee / energy drink or chocolate
- Head is nodding or is hard to hold up
- Muscles are aching or twitching
- Having trouble focusing on the road; or your mind is wandering
You don't have to wait to have more than one indicator to stop. Prevention and taking responsibility is better than an accident or fatality. Being late to arrive somewhere is better than never.
Take a 15 minute break every 2 hours of driving.
Stop to get fresh air, increase your circulation by walking around, have a drink or something to eat just don't use these pick-me-ups solely to try and keep you awake when you know you ought to have a rest instead.
Definitely rest or hand-over the driving to someone else (if the latter is an option). Knowing your limitations isn't a sign of weakness it's a reflection of your deep sense of social responsibility.
WHAT ARE YOUR SIGNS? SHOULD YOU BE DRIVING?