Don't Drive Drowsy


Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz USA

A journey by automobile can be a great adventure – in different ways.

As much as we love the open road, we often find ourselves in moments when our body is telling us something different. We think we have the strength of a superhuman when covering hours of drive time in even the bleakest terrain. We are compelled to not stop our vehicle – nor would we want to.

When your body tells you that it needs rest, what do you do? That is why you hear repeatedly that you simply need to stop the vehicle and rest before re-starting the journey again. They, meaning local and regional public safety authorities, transportation departments and ministries, safety advocates and the oft journalist, do mean their best when they say these things.

Of course, you start whining. You cannot pull off to the side of the road because it is illegal to do so. Certain places are unsafe to even rest in your own vehicle. Several governments have shut down roadside rest areas, so even the opportunity to rest in a self-contained location is non-existent in some places. Even rest stops can be creepy – whether you read squirt.org or not.

Excuses – even racecar drivers will not use them.

Neither should you. You see, years ago I was one of those drivers who would push themselves to get home over hours of driving. Late nights in Philadelphia and Chicago (to Northern Virginia and Madison, Wisconsin respectively) prompted a few hours of road time on Interstates full of rest areas so I could make into the work the next day. The result was an extremely tired person – a few hours on the road, a few more hours of sleep and a few more scars on the body.

Ah, but some automakers think you need some form of electronic nanny to maintain your attention on the road. Lane Departure warnings have been creeping up on various automobiles as an optional feature. The sensors on the sides of the vehicle can read where the lines between the lanes are in relation to your position. If these sensors pick up that you are touching these lane dividing lines, an alarm goes off to scare the living daylights out of you. Some manufacturers think this is a better way to keeping you awake while driving instead of something more abrupt – like a collision.

I’m not one for electronic nannies. I believe that a driver's fitness is better than any technology provided within the reach of your steering wheel. Sure, there are occasions when your mind slips in thinking you can get home after a house party in Fargo to make it home in the middle of the night back in Minneapolis. What are the consequences of doing so when your body is craving sleep?

Even when visiting friends in Duluth, I felt compelled to drive the 150-plus miles even after a full day and evening in town. It could be an easy thing to do, but I always find time to stop somewhere – a rest area, a 24-hour convenience store/petrol station, or some other place full of lights and peace.

What is your plan? I would hope you take steps in timing your stops depending on the time of day you are driving, your route and the distance you are covering. Also, know your own abilities. Not everyone can drive for hours on end thinking you will make it "on time." You might even have a co-driver on board – someone who knows your vehicle well enough to competently drive it. Make sure your insurance covers such a co-driver, in case you do get into some trouble.

Not all electronic nannies are bad. Cruise control can be found on most vehicles running on the road. If you are covering a long distance, you can set the cruise to a comfortable pace and concentrate on just keeping the vehicle on the road and watching for idiots along the way.

If you must spend the money on a lane departure system or some other form of electronic nanny that keeps you from harm's way, please read the owner's manual to understand how to use it. Most people have no clue how to properly use one of these features. If you have it "on," it should work like magic – right? Wrong! There may be a few settings you can work with to make it work the way you rather it work. Or, you simply turn off the feature.

There are other considerations to ensure that you get there safely. As much as we love our phones, I’d tether them to a hands-free device, such as the Bluetooth connection in your audio system. In some jurisdictions, the authorities are clamping down on phone use on the road. Though they are targeting instances of texting while driving, it is perhaps best to leave those messages alone. That also includes Facebooking and tweeting, too! Granted, a few infotainment systems now give you the ability to receive Facebook and Twitter updates in your vehicle. Let’s be honest – do you really want to bring your Facebook drama along for the ride?

Every time you take the wheel for a long journey, ask yourself this question: "Will you be able to get there safely?" Even better, "will you be able to get there awake, alert and alive?" I hope your answer is "yes." Otherwise…I do not want read about on Facebook somewhere.

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