Driving when you are sleepy & exhausted? Well, you're as much of a safety hazard as a drunk driver, says the AAA. And it's not just the AAA who's saying so. Even the NHTSA agrees. In fact, "you're more likely to die from drowsy driving than from texting while driving, distracted driving or drunk driving combined", according to the CSI Research Center.
The effects of drowsiness are similar to alcohol - it will make your driving inputs (steering, acceleration, braking) poorer, destroy your reaction times & blur your thought processes. The AAA says that 20% of all fatal accidents in the USA are due to drowsiness! We can only imagine what the stats are like for India which has a higher road accident rate. Problem is, no one researches this out here. Headlines only scream 'speeding car hits biker'. The Times of India has merely 800 results for 'sleepy driver' (link), but a whopping 2.23 lakh for 'speeding car' (link).
Get this, drivers who are deprived of 4+ hours of sleep are 10.2 times more accident prone! Some say that if you've been awake for ~24 hours, you are a more dangerous driver than a drunk one. Truth is, you could nod off without realising it if you are terribly fatigued! The problem is compounded because there's no way of catching sleepy drivers (like how cops nab drunks with breathalysers). No one went to jail for drowsy driving, did they? On a related note, 9 out of 10 USA cops admitted to pulling over drivers on suspicion of drunk driving, but the drivers were actually drowsy (source).
We've always discussed the perils of drunk driving, why one should buckle up, the importance of safety features & crash test ratings, yet this topic surprisingly doesn't have a dedicated thread on Team-BHP!
Symptoms from the Sleep Foundation:
From the AAA Slides:
Fundamental Rules & Trip-Planning
What'll follow are some tips on avoiding sleepy driving (please share your own tips on this thread for the benefit of other BHPians). Experts say that men between the teenage years to mid-thirties are the most vulnerable; this forms the majority of Team-BHP readers, so please read carefully:
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On the Road
The advice in this post is NOT to cure sleepiness - it's only listing best practices to help you stay consistently alert. If you want to know what to do when you get sleepy, refer to the next post.
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Umm, I still got sleepy. Now what?
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The Smaller yet Significant Tips
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Don't do a Mr. Bean
Notice the absence of brake lights. Did this driver doze off?
Carmakers like Mercedes have added a 'drowsiness alert system' to combat the problem. We first saw it in the 2009 E-Class. Your driving is continuously judged on 70 parameters. If the Mercedes feels you need a break, the MID will ask you to take a refreshment stop:
Take a look at this cab driver (sleepy + no seatbelt):
A fatal crash caused by a snoozing dude:
Cruise control could make things even more dangerous - this car kept on accelerating long after the driver drifted into sleep:
An awe-inspiring initiative by VW. Towards the end, it says "because some times, not driving is driving carefully":
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Before I list some very interesting posts from BHPians, a personal experience. The first & last time I drove being terribly drowsy was about 20 years ago. Never did it since then. In the nineties, me & a cousin had driven to Shirdi. The plan was to sleep over at our house in Deolali and drive back to Bombay the next morning. Now, while we’re doing dinner, for some reason (IIRC, an urgent matter came up), we decided to drive back to Bombay right then & there. Of course, it helped that the place we were having dinner at (i.e. Taj Nashik) is right on the highway to Bombay. Had a good meal and started driving back (IIRC, it was my cousin’s Cielo – a hot car at the time). Now, keep in mind that we were on the road since the morning and had spent a lot of time roaming around Shirdi. Getting in the car at the end of a long day was a horrible idea. At about midnight, after 60 - 90 minutes of driving, I was starting to feel terribly drowsy. Luckily, my cousin was well-rested as only I had been driving since the morning. Swapped seats and dozed off. Next thing I know, we’ve reached my house!! So tired was I that I slept through the entire return journey - didn't even realise where those 90 minutes went! Promised myself never to do it again and haven’t. As Moderator Aditya once said ‘start early and wrap up your driving by 6 p.m. No driving after that’. Even today, Aditya follows this rule. You can anyway make very good progress with 10 – 12 hours of driving if you’ve started early.
I know that there have been many incidents with falling asleep while on the wheel, but most of them escape relatively unharmed. I was not so fortunate (yet still very fortunate).
It was 8 in the morning. I was driving an Innova with 2 other friends on the Taj Expressway. We had a late night the previous night, but I had 2 cups of coffee before starting and was drinking coke all the way. Since both my friends were asleep, I was trying to maintain a speed of 90 km/h. I was a bit drowsy and my eyes shut for a few seconds. Next thing I knew, I had a tyre blowout and my car was travelling at 120 and was inches away from a pole. I braked hard and swerved, but to no avail. My car struck the pole and flipped over 3 times before finally coming to a rest due to the side railing. Never have I ever felt so much fear. Luckily, we all escaped relatively unscathed. No major injuries. But the car was completely totalled. So bad that it had to be sold off as scrap. Took me a good 4 months to get back to driving again. Never again. I am so afraid of that incident that my body stops driving if I feel sleepy even if I want to. It just doesn't oblige.
The Alto had two folks in it. Vishnu was driving the car. Hemabhushan was in the navigation seat. They were returning from Chennai airport after sending off Vishnu’s parents to the US. They hadn't slept at all. They started from Nellore at 8 pm the previous night; reached Chennai airport around midnight; sent off folks to the US and started driving back to Nellore immediately as it was only 3 hours from there.
Apparently (we do not know for sure), Vishnu slept for a moment and ended up grazing the median of the highway at around 100 km/h near Doravari Satram on NH5. The front right tyre burst and the car got pulled onto the median immediately. At that speed, it was airborne for a few moments before landing on the oncoming lanes.
The truck driver coming from Nellore towards Chennai, suddenly saw a car flying into his truck. He slammed on the brakes. But of course, he could not have prevented the head-on collision. The car was thrown back 100 meters. The truck’s front axle broke and the truck hit the median. Truck driver was not injured. He immediately rushed to the car to find both of them dead on the spot.
The car was so mangled that they had to use a crane to get the bodies out of the car.
It is a very sad day for me for I lost two of my best friends in a car accident yesterday. My friend who recently got married had come from the US for a break and since his visa renewal got delayed, he had ample free time. So he and another friend of ours with three others went to Mangalore for a trip. But as fate would have it, three of them died while returning in Periyapatna in a road accident.
It is a tragic loss for their family and me personally. The Zen in which they were travelling collided with a truck. It appears that the truck driver was not at fault as one of my friends who was driving was sleepy and momentarily went on to the path of an oncoming truck. The impact was so much that it took an hour to extricate the driver.
The other friend who was in the front seat suffered a head injury and also died on the spot. Out of the three who were on the back seat, one died on the way to the hospital and two are in the hospital (with one in critical condition).
I miss my friends terribly and I request to all those driving to drive safely and be sober. Please, please never overspeed on the highway even for a momentary adrenaline rush and end up as tied baggage at your home.
The incident which I am sharing happened a couple of years back. I had some work in South Mumbai and left at about 6:00 A.M from Thane. I had slept late the previous night and was feeling drowsy and irritable at the wheel (was driving an Accent). I left home and had ascended the Cadbury Bridge in Thane, when I think I dozed off for a second. Big mistake as I was driving on the right hand lane!!
An XUV500 had suffered a breakdown and was parked in this lane (he had his hazard lights on). My car went over a column of the flyover (the kind which has two metal rails horizontally running through the center of the road). It jarred me awake and I spotted the XUV500 in the nick of time. Slammed the brakes and tried to steer away, but had no ABS! End result was that I slammed into the XUV500 at a low speed (I don't remember the exact speed now, but must have been less than 10 km/h). A Polo slammed into my car from the rear. The damages: XUV500 - almost none, my car - front and rear bumpers were dented, Polo - front bumper dented and number plate jarred loose.
Rented a Hyundai Sonata AT in Minneapolis at 01:00 in the morning and drove towards Indianapolis (a 10 hour drive). Had less sleep the previous night and none that night either.
Despite having another driver friend beside me, I did not wake him up (yes, all 4 passenger friends were snoring and sleeping, tempting my drowsy self). The road was long, dark, lonely and mesmerizing. Lulled me to steal a few winks. And all of a sudden, with the needle in the speedo pointing at 80 mph and awakened of my stupor, I found the Sonata had skipped a couple of lanes without my knowledge. Devil knows and I think maybe me too, what all might have happened if the Sonata had veered even further and embraced the oncoming traffic. I pulled over, washed my face, stretched, ate a few snacks and resumed the journey. Caught myself starting to doze off again and an hour later, stopped and reluctantly gave the driver's seat to my friend, conceding defeat to drowsiness.
Lesson learnt: If drowsiness attacks you even once, stop driving, take a nap and resume driving after you are refreshed.
We were on a holiday in Switzerland & returning to Zurich at night after a long tiring day. My brother-in-law was driving, I was beside him, his wife & mother in the rear seat with a kid.
I was also a bit drowsy, but tried to keep awake; somewhere in my drowsy brain, I felt the car drifting to the right. I jerked awake, saw my bro-in-law had also dozed off & the car was just about to crash into the barrier.
I quickly grabbed the wheel & swerved the car back to the road & almost smashed into a truck, narrowly missing it.
Bro-in-law was truly shaken; Mom-in-law hysterical, but all's well that ended well.
Moral of the story: Sleep kills. Not just in Nightmare on Elm Street.
Sleepy at the Wheel - This happened when I had to attend the wedding of my friend's sister in Palampur, Himachal. I started driving in my Alto from Delhi at about 2200 and reached 50 kilometres short of destination early morning at 0430. I had taken a coffee break fifteen minutes prior to this juncture and yet, I dozed off on a left bending incline with a deep gorge on to my right. The left of the road incidentally had a mountain wall and I was doing about 40 km/h. Suddenly, I was woken up from that small but horribly drowsy state, by hearing metal smashing on my left. Car skidded against the hill and the front wheel got badly misaligned. The front fender was gone and apparently, it was a structural damage.
Lessons learnt - Expensive repairs ( 10000) and more importantly, never to drive if there is a slight hint of sleepy or weary feelings. I have absolutely abstained from morning 0300-0600 hour driving times since then. I do prefer driving at nights, but not in the stated interval where I have observed higher concentration lapses.
3 friends on 3 bikes decided to do a trip to Ooty from Bangalore and return on the same day. To keep the trip entertaining, we modified the route as Bangalore-Mysore bypass-Ooty-Mettupalayam-Sathyamangalam-Chamarajanagar-Kollegal-Bangalore. This meant riding over 700 km in one day. We were all game for it.
We reached Ooty, did some sight-seeing and proceeded towards Sathyamanagalam when I felt drowsy. I asked other riders to stop to know they felt the same. Plus, the roads were only ghat sections. We stopped after a while and rested for about 30 min.
But that wasn't enough!
We were somewhere near Chamarajanagar and it was 9 pm already with a lot of kilometres to cover to reach Bangalore (next day was Monday), we increased our speeds to 70ish. Roads were stark empty. It was completely dark, no lights on the road or nearby.
I started feeling sleepy again. Then it happened. I was trailing behind two other riders by about 50 odd meters when I closed my eyes for a couple of seconds and bam! I was running at 65ish in a straight ditch!
Vowed not to ride again if I feel sleepy. Though my endurance levels have increased now and I have done 1000 km in a day, but I never ride without taking ample amount of sleep beforehand.
After years of driving, now I have identified my limitations. I kind of get drowsy around 2 pm, 7 pm, 10 pm, 2 am and 4 am. Around this time, I'll be a bit more careful or take a power nap and hand over the steering to someone I trust (No stunts ha ha). It once happened that during one of my drives to Kerala, I was behind the wheel for 12 hours and it was about 10 pm when I had a momentary lapse of concentration. My eyes shut for a second and I ended up on the opposite side, right in front of a car with just enough time to turn to my lane.
Had started very early in the morning and also did not have much sleep the previous night. I was driving at a steady clip (probably 60 miles an hour) with the cruise control engaged. My wife was dozing off in the passenger seat next to me. My kids (3 and 6 year olds) were at the back in child seats. Traffic was light, a soothing song was on the music player and apparently, I drifted off to sleep. It was my son's "appa watch out" cry that woke me up - I had drifted from the inner lane to the outermost lane and was fast approaching a bend on the road. If my son's cry had not woken me up, I would have hit the shoulder dividers head on. Shudder to think what could have happened.
From that time on, whenever I felt drowsy, I made sure I stopped and rested before starting off again.
I was just going through all the posts in this section & am very impressed since these are important lessons to others. It takes a lot of courage for someone to accept their mistakes & more importantly...their inadequacies with driving, since I had read somewhere that every man thinks he is the best in the world at two things (one of them is driving).
Once while returning to Bangalore, I had dinner at Kamat Lokaruchi at Ramanagara & considered washing my face, but thought it is just an hour's drive to Bangalore, so why bother & continued. After about 20 minutes, the drowsiness started & I just closed my eyes to give it a couple of seconds rest & had gone to sleep for a brief period. This time, I actually had a small dream that confirmed that I had actually dozed off.
I checked the internet & there are plenty of cases abroad - the constant staring at the road, with a constant speed, not moving the head much, the eyes get strained & in turn drowsiness sets in.
Most accidents take place when we are less than 100 km from our destination. Since before that, we will stop & take a break, but when we are this close, we think we can just push ourselves a bit further & get home. Bad call!
Had not managed much sleep for the last two days, so cousin drove from Mumbai to Pune. I took over the wheel in the morning, when returning to Mumbai. Midway, we decided to head off to Lonavla. So took the Lonavla exit ramp and entered the town. All was well till then. Suddenly, I dozed off for an instant!
My cousin, who was sitting beside me, shook me awake. He said that the car had veered and we were heading straight for two people walking on the side. Luckily, the speed wasn't much because we had just come off the exit ramp!
Gave him the wheel right then and there. And swore never to drive again when feeling drowsy.
Knowing one's body clock is the key to long drives. Lovely roads, sparse traffic and nice food, cannot get more soporific. Driving from Mehndipur ke Balaji (near Mahua on Jaipur Agra road) NH 11 I guess, in my Dad's 800 with 5 passengers, I too had a momentary lapse when the car swerved onto the right side of the road on a longish turn. Drowsiness had taken the best of me, I realised it in a millisecond. My heart stopped for once. Had there been a truck coming from the opposite direction - Disaster! No one noticed. I still feel guilty of it and get a scary feeling as I write about the incident.
Shared it with wife later (she was a passenger). Have told her to keep talking to me post snack drives, especially the graveyard shift (1 pm to 4 pm).
I guess highway hypnosis occurs to anyone who has driven in the US. Once I was travelling late in the night from Austin to Dallas on I-35. Almost near Waxahachie, early in the morning at 4, the road was clear and everything was silent except the engine and relentless humming of the wheels. I dozed off without my knowledge and the next thing I realized when I woke up was that I was dangerously close to an Ontario registered car and she was honking relentlessly to wake me up - I was maybe 1 feet away from collision when I finally woke up.
Last night, my sister-in-law was travelling from Jaipur to Delhi with her friend & her family when her friend's brother, who was behind the wheel dozed off near Kotputli.
The car hit the milestone head on & flipped upside down starting a small fire in the engine compartment. Even though the boy was hit the worst (mostly internal injuries), he promptly came out of the car & pulled everybody out of the vehicle.
I have driven from Delhi to Jaisalmer and from Jaisalmer to Delhi at a stretch. But while going, I stopped over twice to take a 30 min nap and while coming back, I stopped over once to take a 30 min nap.
I learnt my lesson when I had almost no memory the next day of driving the last 100 km on a 22 hour driving trip (from the mountains to Delhi the day before). Why? Because I didn't listen to my body and even indulged in over-speeding to remain awake. Never again I said!
I would strongly recommend people to not try and make any records on public roads by driving for long distances or driving non-stop. One not only risks themselves and their family, but also others' lives on the road.
Though people recommend having a coffee/Red Bull, but in my experience of having driven a couple lakh kilometres on Indian highways, no amount of caffeine is going to keep you awake when you start falling asleep. It might just delay it by a few minutes. Park your car and take a nap! Even a 15 minute nap can do wonders, been there done that! One recommendation on parking your car in such cases = avoid parking just adjacent to the side of the road, who knows when another sleepy driver gets off the road.
Stop over at a dhaba/food-joint, purchase a toffee if you think he'd object to you parking there and doze off!!
Something like this almost happened to me on the 19th of this month. I along with my family (my parents, wife and son) had gone to Bramhavar from Mangalore for Ganesh Chaturthi in the morning and after the puja + heavy meal, were returning to Mangalore. It was around 3 pm and I was driving. My parents and son had fallen asleep and I was chatting with my wife; the next thing I know is that the XUV500 is at the extreme right shoulder of the road and the thick vegetation which had grown almost onto the road is scrapping the right side of my car. I braked hard and I think the safety of my XUV500 W8 AWD came into play. The tyres screeched, but I didn't lose control and was able to steer it back to the left side of the road.
All this happened in a split second and everyone in the car had fallen asleep. My wife remembers chatting with me and the next thing she heard was screeching of the tyres. Luckily, I'd woken up just in time and there was no vehicle approaching from the opposite lane.
It still scares the daylight out of me when I think about how close we were to getting killed.
One of my relatives lost his life while returning from Haridwar because he dozed off mid-way after a good lunch and a nice bath in the Ganges. Also, he was not wearing his seatbelt.
I learnt a lesson that day. Never drive if you are feeling sleepy and without seatbelts.
Four years ago when returning from Fatehpur to Jaipur in my humble Maruti 800, at around 3.00-3.30 am, I dozed off for a split second and my car kind of skidded on the road. I regained concentration almost immediately and continued safely after that, but still curse myself till date for the carelessness. I had 4 friends with me who were all asleep and didn't realise what happened. I was the only driver and their lives were dependent on me.
I was with my family coming back from an outstation funeral. It was my maiden attempt of a long drive. The 4 lane highway from Nizamabad to Hyderabad is probably one of the best roads I have seen and as some of us may call it, "ekdum makkhan". It was around 11 pm in the night and I was driving with my family, with my Dad in the co-passenger seat (Dad has a vast driving experience). He was chatting with me to make sure that I stay awake. I was not even sleepy, but at one moment, my eyes shut for half a second. I opened them with a jerk and saw that I was mildly drifting towards the divider, but I had it under control. It scared the Sh*t out of me.
Around 7 am, I felt drowsy and thought "let me stop the car someplace and sleep for an hour or two", so I would feel refreshed and would feel better to drive the remaining way. But then decided against it and drove on thinking I would not reach Chennai by 6 pm!
I drove on and was so sleepy that my eyes were closing on their own and I knew this. Still, all I did was I said to myself 'don't sleep' as you are driving and it would be dangerous! At least half a dozen times, my eyes shut the next second when I was telling myself not to sleep, and I would wake up with a jerk and see the car rolling to the right/left. Once I opened my eyes and I was like 20 ft. away from a truck - if I had not woken up, I would have hit the truck head on! After this, I told myself "what the hell are you doing? Be awake"! But the next second like a reflex motion, I dozed off and when I opened my eyes, I was just a second away from crashing the car into the road divider.
Doing comfortable speeds of around 110 km/h, all the passengers are fast asleep and some light music plays on the CD player. I just glance down at the odometer reading and finally my sleepiness gets the better of me and my eyes shut for about 2-3 seconds. They open when my car is on gravel, hurtling towards a hairpin bend at more than 100 km/h. Everything goes into slow motion mode, I can see there’s a tree just off the hairpin. Now that it was decided that there's nothing I can do to avoid a collision, I’m already thinking of ways to keep damage to a minimum. I think of pulling the handbrake, but that would have meant going sideways into the tree and that would have certainly killed us. The car catches quite a bit of air and flies almost 15 feet, goes head-on into the mountain side, almost rolls onto its side and manages to land with all the four wheels hovering over the ground.
Lesson: Fatigue kills! Lucky us!
Sunday morning 4 am. Ghastly accident on the Pune-Mumbai expressway.
A Mumbai-bound Force Trax vehicle rear-ended a 14-wheel trailer truck at 130 km/h, got stuck in its rear axle and got dragged for 7 km. The trailer-truck driver did not realize what had happened. The blood-stained vehicle had human flesh, broken bangles and windshield glass scattered within its interior.
Sixteen lives were lost in the Trax: 10 women, 3 children and 3 men including the driver. The driver was 25, tired and had fallen asleep before he died and killed so many.
The Trax's speedo is still stuck at 130 km/h.
Image Credits: The pictures of this Article have been sourced from various Team-BHP threads. Thanks to BHPians for shooting & sharing them.