5 Tips for a Safe Road Trip

As summer road travel season approaches, staying alert and awake is critical for arriving safely at your destination. Here are some tips for catching sufficient shut-eye while on the road.

Prepare

Starting your trip on a sleep deficit puts you at risk for drowsy driving. Each year, drowsy driving is responsible for an estimated 83,000 vehicle crashes, 37,000 related injuries and 886 related fatalities, according to data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Before you hit the road, AAA recommends mapping out your directions and rest points along your route.

Break It Up

During a long car ride, you need breaks. Walking around and stretching your legs is particularly important. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention anyone traveling and sitting more than four hours straight is at risk of developing a dangerous blood clot. Clotconnect.org has tips for reducing your risk of blood clots while traveling.

To make the most of a coffee pit stop, don’t grab your caffeine and go. Instead, sleep expert Pete Bils (otherwise known as Sleep Geek Pete) from Sleep Number recommends taking a “napuccino”—a short 20-minute nap after drinking your coffee or other caffeinated beverage. The nap provides both rest and time for the caffeine to enter your system, but it should never be used as a substitute for sleep.

Take a cue from federal regulations on truck drivers: don’t drive more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period. On long road trips, share the drive with someone else or stay in a hotel over night. After dark remains the most dangerous time to drive, according to the National Safety Council. There are a variety of reasons for this, and sleepiness is among them.

Avoid Distractions

Even if you are wide awake, distractions like checking your cellphone can be as dangerous as driving drunk. In 14 states, it’s illegal to use a hand-held cell phone while driving. In 46 states, texting while driving is banned. But hands-free devices aren’t any better either. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found our brain works just as hard to process information from hands-free devices as it does from handheld ones, making them as much of a distraction.

Don’t Rely on Music

While you may think cranking the radio will keep you alert while driving, research remains mixed. Some studies show it keeps us focused, while others show it makes teens more prone to driver errors. A small British study found listening to traffic updates on the radio can cause drivers to miss what’s going on around them. Regardless, listening to your favorite tunes isn’t a substitute for good sleep.

Find Out More If You Snore

Some medical conditions can predispose us to drowsy driving. If you are a heavy snorer and feel extremely tired during the day, you may have sleep apnea, a common condition where you have shallow breaths or pauses in breathing while you sleep. While 20 percent of adults have sleep apnea, up to 90 percent of cases go undiagnosed, according to the National Institutes of Health. A doctor may be able to diagnose medical conditions that could be making you fatigued—and that could help you sleep better, before and after a long trip.