How to Stay Alert While Driving 2023

It’s a tragic reality that almost a quarter of road accidents are caused, or at least in part, by driver fatigue, with a large proportion of them being fatal/serious crashes. We’re all savvy enough to not drive when half asleep, but when you’re out on the open road, it’s easy to slip away from focus after a few hours of monotony. While the best way to avoid being part of that terrible statistic is to simply not drive, if you don’t have that option then there are a few things to be aware of, as well as a few tricks to know, to ensure your safety. Find out for yourself below.

Causes of Fatigue-Related Crashes

Tiredness can strike at the most wakened parts of the day, but some situations are riskier than others. Tiredness can most commonly occur when you’re:

  • Driving on a long, monotonous road
  • Driving between 2 am and 6 am
  • Driving between 2 pm and 4 pm
  • Under the effects of (even minimal) alcohol
  • Under the effects of certain prescribed drugs
  • Suffering from working long hours at work

Most obviously, if you’ve been deprived of your recommended 7-8 hours of sleep, you’re going to take a big hit from tiredness. Studies have found that sleeping for just 5-6 hours increases one’s collision rate by 1.9 times and sleeping for 4 hours or less increases this by 11.5 times! But who’s most at risk of falling asleep at the wheel? Statistics show that it’s young male drivers, truck drivers, company car drivers and shift workers. However, anybody’s susceptible to tiredness without the right preparation or awareness…

Signs of Tiredness to Look Out For

Again, the best way to avoid driving tired is to simply not drive, but if you don’t know whether you are or not, then there are a few signs you can look out for. You might be tired if you’re:

  • Struggling to maintain a good posture
  • Forgetting about the last few miles you’ve driven
  • Unable to drive in a straight line
  • Missing road signs and exits
  • Pinching or squeezing yourself (this doesn’t wake you up by the way!)
  • Frequently yawning or blinking
  • Thinking about napping
  • Unable to keep a safe distance from other cars

Beyond this, there’s the problem of micro-sleeping. These occur when you’re very tired and your body attempts to shift into sleep momentarily to compensate. These may only last 4-5 seconds, but when you’re travelling at 60mph, a second of lost concentration is all it takes for disaster.

How to Stay Alert While Driving

The Highway Code has included some helpful information to minimise the risk of an accident due to tiredness. To reiterate them:

  • Make sure you are fit to drive. Do not begin a journey if you are tired. Get sufficient sleep before embarking on a long journey
  • Avoid undertaking long journeys between midnight and 6 am, when natural alertness is at a minimum
  • Plan your journey to take sufficient breaks. A minimum break of at least 15 minutes after every two hours of driving is recommended
  • If you feel sleepy, stop in a safe place. Do not stop in an emergency area or on a hard shoulder of a motorway

The most effective way to reduce sleepiness is to drink two cups of coffee (150mg of caffeine) and take a 15-minute nap. Anything longer than this can leave you feeling more tired as your body will begin to crave deeper sleep. Keep in mind that this method is only a temporary solution; the effects of caffeine are only temporary and cannot be relied upon as you drive, and 15-minute naps only invigorate you for a few hours (so stop more frequently if needed).

Beyond the Highway code, there are a few other neat tricks you can do to stay alert while driving, but they should not be relied upon if you’re genuinely fatigued. These include things such as:

  • Chewing gum, which has been shown to reduce tiredness
  • Taking a passenger, who can keep an eye on you and engage you in conversation
  • Get cold air into the car, but don’t dry your eyes out!
  • Avoiding slouching
  • Stretching (or mild exercise), which can oxygenate your brain and wake you
  • Snacking on healthy foods

How Your Car Can Assist You

It’s not all doom and gloom. We’re living in an amazing time where science and technology can provide us with advice (as above) and tools to assist us as we drive. Many modern cars are kitted with driver-supportive features that can fill you with confidence and reduce the chances of fatigue on the road, such as:

  • Driver Condition Monitor can advise you to take a break by detecting your drowsiness
  • Blind Spot Monitoring can alert you when a vehicle approaches or is in your blind spot.
  • Cruise control/Speed limiter to maintain the vehicle's current speed so you need to focus on accelerating or slowing down
  • Lane Departure Warning tells you when your car is drifting out of a lane

Of course, nobody should rely on these features to make up for drowsy driving as nothing beats a full 8-hours of sleep and a healthy lifestyle. Although, they sure take the stress away from certain aspects of driving so that you can place more attention on driving safely and staying focused. Car manufacturers place a big highlight on comprehensive drive assistance tools, so much so that they typically give them a name to describe a bundle of features their fleet will come with.

Hyundai’s ‘SmartSense’ is integrated into all their modern cars, featuring lane-keep assist, autonomous emergency braking, cruise control and more. You can also get optional bonuses such as parking assistance although this may already be included in some models as standard. Hyundai’s EV range is expanding dramatically and with it, an abundance of the latest driver assistance tech. Take the refreshingly modern IONIQ 5 for example, which contains all that you could ask for such as driver fatigue monitoring, automated correctional driving, fully automated parking, hands-free communication and more.

Mazda is also doing something similar with their i-Activsense autonomous systems. TheMazda CX-5 is a proud example which employs this. Besides its high-strength Skyactiv-Body achieving a 5-star NCAP safety rating, the CX-5 boasts an array of safety features that strengthen Mazda’s approach to delivering an enjoyable, stress-free drive. A notable feature is the Advanced Smart City Brake Support which uses a forward camera to detect pedestrians and objects even at speeds of 50mph. Additionally, features like Traction Control System, Emergency Stop Signalling System and Hill Launch Assist are but a few things that can prevent the driver from being overwhelmed, especially on long journeys.

Another great example of a car manufactures focus on preventing driver fatigue and boosting alertness is Peugeot. Their safety/assistance suite falls under the i-Cockpit design of their modern vehicles. The i-Cockpit, as found on the Peugeot 508, encompasses an easily viewable 12.3” information panel that displays the health of the car and driver as well as communications, navigation and driving assistance. Additionally, this panel, in combination with an ergonomic steering wheel and driving seat, allows you to concentrate on your journey, reduce stress and minimise tiredness.