Tips for Teens: Drowsy Driving during Spring Break

Many young people spend the time following the end-of-year break from school looking forward to Spring Break, when they will have a great time frolicking with friends in a sunny, sandy locale.

But the long hours of recreation in the hot sun and the excitement of spending the week with friends can cause fatigue on the drive home. Six hours of sleep or less triples your risk of becoming sleepy while driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year. This results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.

Being fatigued while driving can result in a serious crash due to:

  • Impaired reaction time, judgment and vision
  • Problems with information processing and short-term memory
  • Increased moodiness and aggressive behaviors

Some drivers try to avoid these effects by ingesting substances such as NoDoz, Red Bull, or coffee, each of which contains caffeine, a stimulant. But it’s important to realize that the effect of any of these products is, at best, minimal and temporary. The “crash” that follows when the stimulant effect wears off can leave a driver feeling more tired than ever and can increase irritability. Sleep is a neurobiological need that can only be met with sleep, so increased dosages of caffeine will only increase the severity of side effects, not the degree of wakefulness. Too much caffeine can cause restlessness, nervousness, muscle twitching, and an irregular or rapid heartbeat.

To increase your chance of arriving home safely, make plans for your return from Spring Break that allow for a good night’s sleep the night before you leave. Sleep experts recommend at least seven to nine hours. Avoid alcohol and medications (over-the-counter and prescribed) that may impair performance. Plan to leave at a time which will not require you to drive through the night.

Take your driving trip with a companion so you can switch drivers when needed. Passengers can also watch for early signs of driver fatigue. Passengers should stay awake to talk to the driver. Schedule regular stops every 100 miles or two hours. Never try to drive “straight through” – you might never arrive at all. When you stop, spend several minutes stretching and taking a short walk.

Signs that tell you that you must stop immediately for sleep include:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly, rubbing your eyes, or trouble keeping your head up
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip

Remember, the only cure for sleepiness is sleep!