Falling asleep at the wheel

bonebloodyidleMarch 4, 2009

This happened to me for the first time in 20 years of driving tonight. I regularly do 50,000km a year throughout Ireland, the UK and continental Europe, but what flummoxed me tonight was a tractor doing 30kph for 10k or more without moving over to let cars pass. This was on a national road with a 100k limit. I didn't feel tired when I joined the queue but after a few minutes the boredom really got to me. After a few kilometres it finally happened and it was only bumping over the cats eyes in the middle of the road that woke me up. But then a few hundred yards later it was my exit and I was free of the farmer and could put the hammer down. Then all tiredness disappeared as I hurtled through the lanes like my trousers were on fire. I hit every apex with complete accuracy and felt alive like never before. The odd bit of opposite lock to correct the unbalancing effect of potholes came almost naturally, the cadence braking to avoid hitting the 137 year old to**er in the 25 year old Corolla who forgot what side of the road he should drive on kicked in automatically.

And I have noticed this more and more recently. When going slow (ie too slow for the conditions) I get bored and make mistakes. This is when I am going slow because I am stuck behind a dawdler, not because I am going in a built up area where I go slow because there is a lot to take in. Then I don't get bored because there are kids going to school, blind men in Corollas and allsorts of hazards to be wary of. But on the open road with tractors and learner drivers in Fiat Puntos crawling along where there is very little hazard I can't help but to switch off.

So the point of this posting is, if it is safe and legal to get your clog down and do 120, then do 120. And if you don't feel able to do 120 then take a taxi and let the rest of us stay awake.

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I agree that someone going significantly under the speed limit should pull over to let others pass.

I don't agree that the answer to your not being able to stay awake while driving is to drive faster.

If you find it hard to stay awake at any speed, I doubt the problem is bordom. More likely you're not getting enough rest either due to your personal habits or a medical condition such as sleep apnea. jmo

    Bookmark   March 5, 2009 at 9:03PM
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Falling asleep at the wheel may be caused by 'sameness', no variance in your environment, coupled with a constant drone of vehicular noise. When this happens to you with no traffic around you, it is sometimes called "highway hypnosis". Some drivers get lured into this condition by the steady passing of the dashed center line. Not enough sleep/rest the night before is a factor. Low blood sugar is a possibility.

I don't know any cure. I only know what works for me. it helps if I stop, and exercise a bit to increase my blood circulation - wake up the body. The exercise can be as simple as brisk walk or trot around the parking lot. If you still feel sleepy, its time to park it and catch a nap.

The company I worked for (before retiring) was working on a "drowsy driver detection" system mainly for the trucking industry. They were doing research to find what to monitor to detect when a driver was about to nod off. I'm not privy to all the details, but I think a couple of items were the driver's eyelids and head tilt. It had to work without attaching anything to the driver. One hurdle was to get drivers to accept the system. Many saw it as an invasion of 'their space" and a fear that the data would be collected and used against them.

This work took place several years ago, and I don't know the outcome. I have seen no announcements or advertisements.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 2:11AM
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Systems today can sense not only if a driver is falling asleep, it can tell which way the driver is looking. Combine that with the capability to "see" the lines on the road, and any other vehicles or obstructions, and you have some of today's cars that employ accident avoidance capabilities which include not only sounding an alarm to alert the driver, but also applying the brakes, and in some cases the car can steer itself.

This isn't sci-fi, and its also not a concept car, these are already on the market! The adaptive cruise systems automatically space the car from the one in front of you in your lane and they can maintain lane control.

Of course one of the neat little tricks for the driving impaired is this same technology allows the car to park itself.

People often still say to me when the cars had carburetors, points and condensers they were able to work on them themselves. Just imagine working on things like I just outlined.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 8:20AM
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when i get tired and start nodding off, i let the wife drive. no one could sleep through that, her driving would sober up the worst drunk!

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 10:56PM
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Thanks for all your suggestions.

Gary, driving faster wasn't the answer to stay awake, it was merely an observation that driving slowly made my tiredness seem worse.

Jemdandy, your diagnosis of low blood sugar is plausible but as a type 1 diabetic I test before driving and this was not the case in this instance.

Bill h, I will not borrow your idea. Last time my wife drove my car she broke the gearbox.

Now this seems a tricky problem to fix. I don't feel drowsy when driving in town as there are plenty of hazards to keep me busy. But then when on the open road with few hazards, if I am forced to go slow, say less than 80kph (50mph) my eyelids start feeling extremely heavy. The only other environment in which I have these symptoms is the odd conference at work which happens too frequently and contains material I do not need to know about, which to me proves this whole issue is about boredom.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2009 at 8:26PM
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2 cups of strong joe, and 2 cans of red bull. may not keep you awake but you`ll spend so much time looking for a can every 5 miles , you wont be able to sleep. hahaha

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 1:39AM
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I like your thinking there bill h!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 5:48PM
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