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Signs of driver fatigue

Few things elicit a sense of unbridled adventure as much as a road trip. Unlike more traditional vacations with carefully planned itineraries, road trips are a less formal, more flexible way to travel.

The sense of control drivers have on road trips can help make such excursions feel more liberating. But as any veteran road tripper knows, that control can begin to wane as drivers experience fatigue. Driver fatigue is a serious safety concern. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that each year roughly 100,000 police-reported crashes involve drowsy driving. The National Safety Council notes that drowsy driving accounts for more than 1,500 fatalities every year.

Learning to recognize the signs of driver fatigue can help road trippers know when it’s time to put their vehicles in park or hand over the keys to a fellow traveler. The warning signs of driver fatigue can manifest themselves in various ways, affecting drivers’ bodies and minds and their performance behind the wheel.


The American Academy of Sleep Medicine notes there are various ways the body exhibits signs of driver fatigue. An inability to stop yawning and having difficulty keeping eyes open are two telltale signs of driver fatigue. Drivers experiencing fatigue also might have trouble keeping their head up and find themselves nodding off. Drivers who are blinking with greater frequency than normal and are rubbing and itching their eyes also are showing signs of fatigue.


The mind also is affected by driver fatigue. The AASM notes that fatigued drivers often cannot remember driving the last few miles. Drivers also may feel restless, irritable, impatient, or even aggressive as they become fatigued. Difficulty focusing attention on the road and daydreaming are some additional mental signs that drivers are fatigued.


Fatigue also manifests itself through erratic driving. The AASM notes that fatigued drivers may miss road signs, drift out of their lane and have difficulty maintaining their speed. Passengers may not notice the physical and mental signs of driver fatigue, though they can do their part and look for them during road trips, especially if drivers have been behind the wheel for a long time. Passengers who notice the driving-related signs of fatigue should offer to take over immediately or strongly encourage drivers to pull over. Drivers who are starting to drift into other lanes, missing street signs and/or tailgating other motorists should be asked to hand over the keys right away, as this behavior can greatly increase the risk of accidents.

The open road beckons millions of drivers every year. Drivers who answer that call should recognize the threat posed by driver fatigue and get off the road right away if they begin to feel drowsy.

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