If you have ever driven on a trip over 500 miles, you have likely experienced some level of driver fatigue. Driver fatigue and drowsiness can pose a serious safety issue. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, driver fatigue and driving while drowsy causes approximately 1550 highway deaths per year. Over 100,000 accidents caused by drowsy driving and driver fatigue are reported to police per year. However, there are a few precautions you can take to manage the fatigue and drowsiness you will experience during long trips.

Driver Fatigue Management

Travel While Well-Rested

One of the most important ways to manage driver fatigue and drowsiness over long trips is to ensure that you embark upon the trip in a well-rested state. Be sure that you have had a good night’s worth of uninterrupted sleep before leaving on an extended drive. Driver fatigue and drowsiness will likely occur sooner and without warning if you have been sleep deprived prior to the trip.

Experts recommend that you drive only 8 or 9 hours per day, and then get a full night’s sleep before continuing on your trip. Be sure to build time and arrangements into your travel plans that will provide you with plenty of time to sleep and get plenty of rest during a long trip.

Drive with a Partner

If you must drive more than 8 or 9 hours per day while on a driving trip, elicit the assistance of another driver. Drive in shifts to make sure that each driver does not become drowsy or fatigued while on the road. In addition, having another person in the car is advantageous because you will most likely engage in conversation and interaction during the course of the trip. Your travel partner can keep an eye on you while you are driving for signs of fatigue or “highway hypnosis.” Having another person in the car with you during a long drive will help you stay awake and alert while you drive.

Employ Techniques to Stay Alert

While you are driving, you can do several things to keep you alert and awake. Open the window and allow cold air to circulate in the car. Be sure to keep a stockpile of caffeine drinks handy. Try playing the radio louder than you normally would. Play CDs of lively music that energizes you, such as the types of music you would listen to while working out or dance music. Sing along with the music. Be creative and come up with your own techniques to keep you alert and safe while driving long distances.

Take Frequent Breaks

Another strategy for avoiding driver fatigue is to take frequent breaks over the course of the trip. You need to stretch your legs and get your blood circulating every few hours in order to remain alert and focused. Frequent breaks are important, particularly if you need to drive more than the recommended 8 or 9 hours per day. Experts recommend that you stop for a break about every two hours of driving time. A good way to space breaks out over your trip is to plan a break every 100 or 150 miles.

Use a GPS Tracker

One way to ensure that you take planned breaks during your trip is to program waypoints into your GPS. Most GPS devices will allow you to program various points along your route. For example, you can program a waypoint every 150 miles to ensure that you take the necessary breaks to keep you alert while driving. You can program many GPS devices to sound an alarm when a waypoint is near. Get creative and plan interesting stops for your waypoint breaks. Use your GPS tracker to help you stay alert and safe on long trips.

Avoid Alcohol and Medications 

No one should drink alcohol and then get behind the wheel of a car. However, you should avoid alcohol and medications that may make you drowsy the day before you travel, as well. Definitely avoid any kind of medication that may cause drowsiness while you are driving and never drink and drive. No amount of alcohol is acceptable when you are driving on a long trip. Avoid drinking wine or beer with meals while navigating your way on your route.

Know your limits, especially when you are driving on long trips. It is important that you are able to recognize the signs of fatigue and drowsiness as soon as they begin to occur. Signs of driver fatigue include heavy eyelids, trouble focusing on the road, head nodding, excessive yawning and excessive blinking. When your body begins to become fatigued, notice the signs and take action. Be proactive when driving on long trips and you will keep yourself, as well as other drivers on the road, safe. Arrive at your destination and avoid the common mistake of driving while fatigued.