Driving while tired. . . AKA driving your life away!

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February 4, 2008

Today I want to nag at some of you; my kids say I am good at it so maybe I can do some good. What I want to nag about is driving while tired. You know what I mean, you spend till late Thursday night packing up and getting ready to go camping over the weekend. Then Friday you have a rough day at work and maybe you have to work a little over time. You finally get out of work and head home and jump in the Camper or Tow vehicle and head for the nice relaxing weekend of camping. Or you have been planning that winter trip down to Florida and you want to get far enough south to use your water without worrying about it freezing or just want to “Make some time”. Sounds wonderful and it can be but, and this is a very big but, how safe are you?

Have you done something like this and found yourself “Nodding Off” during the drive? If you have, you have driven while tired. What happens when you drive tired? Your reactions are slower, your attention wonders, and you have a tendency to concentrate on one thing at a time and often it isn’t driving. That is even if you don’t fall asleep at the wheel.

I also know that a lot of you think that you will just turn on the radio and drink a cup of coffee or mountain dew or open the window and you will be fine. And most of us get away with it.

I would hazard to say all of us at one time or another have driven tired and gotten away with it. Now why do I say “Gotten away with it”? Well, studies have been done that show driving while tired is similar to driving while under the influence. That is even if you don’t actually fall asleep at the wheel. In other words, that guy you are following that is weaving all over the road may not be drunk he could just be tired.

So what should you do if you find yourself in this condition? Well, the best thing is to take a nap. Either before you leave for the trip (remember you came home from work before the trip?). Or, if you are already on your way, you may have to PULL OVER, stop at a rest stop, a Wal-Mart or Cracker Barrel, somewhere, anywhere and take a nap. Usually 30 minutes to an hour will do wonders and let you drive for a few more hours. Or if you have another driver who is less tired, let them drive for a while. Your wife (or husband) may be able to drive better than you think and, if they are not tired, probably better and safer than you!

What you shouldn’t do is try to tough it out by drinking coffee or other forms of caffeine, opening the window or playing loud music. Those just are very short term patches for a much more serious problem.

Lastly one other thing I want you to think about is your cell phone. Some people tell me that they talk to someone on their cell phone to keep them awake. In my mind, this is like throwing gas on a fire you want to put out! You are already sleepy and having concentration problems and now you want to add a distraction. Again talking on a cell phone is like driving while impaired (ever watch Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel?). In this case, two wrongs don’t come anywhere near a right.

Well, enough nagging (as my grandmother says I nag like an old woman because I am one!) I don’t have her excuse. But, if one person who reads this will just pull over and sleep for a while or let someone else drive, it will have been worth it.

Your obedient servant,

Gary C. Smith, Jr.

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  2. Chris Villarreal

    Man can I relate to this post. I’m a police officer and have worked many a midnight shift where I was guilty of “DWT.” It’s absolutely true in my line of wotk and driving my RV. The exact same scenario happened to me last summer. I was on the day shift, and someone called in sick for afternoons, so I was stuck until 7:00 PM. Then it’s home, pack up in a flash, get on the road, sit in traffic and try to back the 29′ TT into a space in the pitch darkness. Oh, the 85 degree heat and humidity didn’t help either.

    Great advice from all responders to stop, get out, take a nap, switch drivers, etc.

  3. Tom Bryant


    Great post. I am as guilty as anyone out there for driving tired. And it is usually for the reasons you gave of staying up late for a couple nights getting everything loaded and stowed away and hitting the road after a full day of work.

    I just can’t drive for 24 hours straight like I did 30 years ago. I would drive from L.A. to Oklahoma nonstop back then with no problem and turn around 2 days later and drive nonstop home. Well 30 years has changed that and I now have a 40’ DP and pull a 30’ enclosed trailer most everywhere we go it is full of sand toys or at least one off road toy and a H3 the rest of the time in the trailer.

    I realize I can’t drive for hours on end like I did 30 years ago. Or 10 years ago for that matter.

    Everyone needs to find a way to tell when they are really too tired to drive. If you even have to think about it you are too tired to be driving. I have found that to be a good rule of thumb for me. No more “I can make it to the next rest stop no problem”. Well it very well could be a problem as that next rest stop may be 100 miles down the road if there is one at all before your destination.

    I am not yet retired. I can not wait for the day when if I only feel like driving for one hour and call it good for the day. But in for the next 2 years 286 days 6 hours 23 minutes I need to follow my rule of thumb of if I have to think about it, then its time to find a place to pull over and get some sleep.

    Its time to stop using the bumps on both sides of the lanes as snooze alarms.

    No matter were you are headed it will be there the next day so I for one have stopped pushing it not just for myself and wife but for all the other motorist on the road as well.

    When we go somewhere new I am on the consistent look out for places that we could pull over when we pass that way again. It has come in handy on many trips. If you have a GPS just hit the waypoint button and you will know what they are when you park and have a few minutes to enter them as emergency resting spots.

    It is tempting to try and make that last 50 miles but is it worth it? Even an exit off the freeway will work in a pinch; just pull well off to the side on as flat of an area as possible. This does not work well in heavily populated areas but it is much better then the alternative of falling asleep at the wheel.

    It does not matter if it is 2:00 AM or 2:00 PM when you’re tired your tired.

    If you are retired or not it’s time to stop making excuses why you keep pushing on when you know you shouldn’t. It is not worth it.

  4. ctcrob

    Part of this goes with good planning…just map your route before you take the trip and plan to stop at a rest stop, mall, Wal-Mart or the like and take a breather, or catch some “z”s…. My driver (I don’t) stopped at a rest stop to sleep on a recent trip, and I didn’t think he was able to….until he showed me the CalTrans website on the Safety Rest Areas by the freeways. There aren’t too many of these left, but you can stop to sleep in them up to an 8 hour stop.

  5. DAN L


  6. Pam Rodgers

    Please everyone listen to what Gary is saying. My Son thought that he wasnt too sleepy to drive home one night after helping his cousin move, tuned into a parents worst nightmare!! He fell asleep and had a wreck. he rolled his truck 5 times and then was ejected. He was life flight to the Hospital and remained in the hospital for 7 1/2 months.

    So please IF YOU ARE THE SLIGHTEST BIT SLEEPY—-PLEASE STOP THE VEHICLE. I hate to think of anyone having tp go thru what my son went through and is still going through 15 months later(he is still in a wheelchair) He thought he could make it 4 more miles, and he would be home, just please please stop!!!!!

  7. FarcticOx

    Good Advice. My Wife and I (we both drive) have a 2 hour rule… Stop every 2 hours and get out of the vehicle for a few minutes even just to walk around the parking lot. We don’t get there quite as fast but the ride is a lot less stressful and we can drive long days without tiring. I too have found that while coffee can give you a short term boost, in the long run it tends to make me sleepy, so I minimize my coffee intake.