Drowsy driving... how do you stay awake behind the wheel?

I could have died or killed someone when I fell asleep while driving

Dave Cohen, WWL First News early edition
September 20, 2018 - 7:19 am

State police say a tired driver is to blame for running into a garbage man operating a trash truck in Terrebonne Parish, killing the sanitation worker.

It got me thinking about drowsy driving and my own near death experience.

I was working overnights at a convenient store and working days at Wrigley Field when I was 18 years old.  It was the summer before I went to college.  The Cubs were in town for a long home stand, so I had gone several days working all day and all night... just napping on the train to and from games or the couch at home in between jobs.

As I drove home from the store at 7:00am one day, I just fell asleep.  I was in a curve, but went straight instead.  My car jumped the curb, plowed through some bushes and was headed across a home's front lawn.  Somehow I instinctively slammed on the brakes.  When I opened my eyes, the bumper of my car was less than an inch from the corner of a house.

I was literally a fraction of an inch from maybe ending my life or the lives of people inside.

The jolt of adrenaline gave me the energy to make it home without further incident, but I was still shaking with fear.  Luckily the only casualty was a shrub that got jammed under my car and made the ride home with me.

I really could have died or killed someone that day.

It gave me a much deeper awareness of the need to be awake behind the wheel.  Not that I never drove drowsy again, but since then I have been quicker to make the call that I am too tired to drive.

Many people have techniques for staying awake behind the wheel.  One guy I knew in college would buy a pack of cigarettes before a long road trip, even though he didn't smoke.  He would wear shorts and hold the lit cigarette over his thigh.  If he dozed off, the ensuing burn would wake him up right away.

Now, that's extreme!  I asked listeners to the Early Edition of WWL First News if they have good ways to stay awake while driving.  Here is some of what they texted us from 5:00am to 6:00am at 870870:

  • For long drives. Sunflower seeds. Keeps face moving
  • Roll the window up on your finger Till you can't stand it. Can't sleep and pain
  • Extreme cold or heat and loud music puts me to sleep. So the only way to keep me up it to call someone and force myself to talk during my long drives.
  • I drove tractor trailer oil tanks in the fields in ND. We worked, at times, in 30 hour stretches. I once drove over 50 miles passed my turn without realizing it. The call that road hypnosis
  • When I commuted to Baton Rouge I would watch cars swaying off the road each morning. No doubt the drivers were falling asleep.
  • Fell asleep at the wheel on I10 with my cruise control set much higher than the speed limit. Sleeping was not the issue it was the sudden stop in the trees at the end that really bothered me
  • I pull over and get something to eat or drink.
  • They say if you chew gum it will keep you awake
  • Dave sunflower seeds are the best to keep from drowsy driving...unsalted actually healthy good for you!
  • I am a truck driver and investigated fatigue this a while back ago. I found that chewing anything keep your job muscle and tongue working which supplies your brain with more oxygen which keeps you awake. Well made sense to me
  • Also sunflower seeds work really well. you kind of can't go to sleep if you're eating something
  • Extremely sour candy. When the citric acid hits the back of your tongue you will become alert.
  • A Caffeine nap works really well for this weekend limo driver. A cup of light roast coffee and a 25 minute nap works wonders
  • Listening to country western music while driving, from the 40's or 50's, works every time. 
  • Eating a cup of ice will keep you awake
  • I work night shift for 30 years and after working night shift what would get me home safely would be landmarks. I would pick certain landmarks and that's a landmark pass by and look for the next one until I got home
  • Dave when I'm dozing off while driving I set a timer and every 20 minutes I do a shot of whiskey to help fire me up
  • Drink a lot of water increase your pit stops
  • Suck on a piece of hard candy to stay awake
  • Chew gums when DWD. It works!
  • When I'm driving drowsy, I text all my friends gave me back to stay awake. Ha ha ha
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