What to do when you're feeling drowsy behind the wheel

26 November 2019 - 12:36 By Motoring Reporter
Feeling drowsy while you are behind the wheel? We tell you how to deal with this.
Feeling drowsy while you are behind the wheel? We tell you how to deal with this.
Image: dolgachov / 123rf

Many road safety pundits share information about the dangers of driving while feeling drowsy, and how to avoid finding yourself in this position. The difficulty, however, is that despite one’s best efforts, every person has likely found themselves feeling drowsy behind the wheel.

What should you do in such a scenario this holiday season on the way to your destination?

The MD of MasterDrive, Eugene Herbert, says if safety allows, the best solution is to take a break from driving.

“If you are tasked as a driver this holiday season and your eyes feel heavy while driving, pull over at the next petrol station or safe place and take a break. Whether this is stopping for something healthy to eat, to rest your eyes or to just stretch your legs, listen to the signals your body gives you.”

Herbert provides the following tips should you feel drowsy while driving:

  • As fatigue can hit you at any time on your trip, research how many petrol stations there are on the route and the distances between them. This way you can have an approximate idea of when you can take a break should you suddenly feel tired.
  • Some experts recommend taking a 20-minute nap at a safe location during your drive. This, however, depends very much on the individual. If power naps make you even more tired or drowsy, rather avoid this.
  • Where possible, travel with someone who can share driving duties. Studies suggest that two hours, with 15-minute breaks, is the optimal time to drive before swapping driving duties.
  • Be careful of using stimulants such as coffee or energy drinks to revive you. While it may be effective for some, for others their effect can be limited and quickly replaced by a caffeine slump. If you know this happens to you, rather try drinking water and eating something healthy like a banana or almonds.
  • If you feel you cannot drive to the next service station before swapping drivers, find a spot on the side of the road that is not bushy (and could potentially hide any criminals), that has a shoulder large enough for you to safely pull over and change drivers, and where it is least dangerous to drive back on to the road.
  • While you are changing drivers use the opportunity to quickly stretch your legs or do a few quick exercises to stimulate your energy levels.
  • In South Africa, pulling over on the side of the road to have a power nap is not advised. Ensure you are rested enough to make the stretch between service stations.
  • Be aware of what makes you feel drowsy. Whether this is sugary foods or certain times of the day, avoid and plan for this where possible.

Falling asleep behind the wheel can have tragic consequences for many people.

“Rather react as soon as you feel your eyes drooping than risk these consequences,” advises Herbert.