Heavy Metal? Nope. Sugar Overload? Wrong Again. How to Stay Alert While Driving
Blasting the air-con, rolling down windows and cranking up favorite tunes are all tricks drivers try to stay alert on the road. But they don’t work and can cause other problems instead. In one study, when young-novice drivers played favorite music while driving, they made more mistakes, drove more aggressively and paid less attention to their surroundings. And the effects of sugar are well-known – the sweet stuff produces a period of high alert followed by a sudden “crash” in energy.

Drivers aren’t expected to silence their car radios or suffer through hunger on the road, however. Here are some strategies to enjoy long drives while also staying safe.

The beat of my heart
Before you trade in Metallica for Mozart, think again. The perfect music tempo while driving matches the beat of the human heart, 60-80 beats per minute. If the music is too fast or too loud, drivers often respond with more aggressive driving. If it’s too slow, fatigue sets in. So, build the perfect playlist, and set the volume to a reasonable level – it has been shown to relax drivers, relieve stress and improve concentration.

“Ford Motor Company has also developed technologies, such as Pre-collision Assist and Lane Keep Assist, to help drivers stay safe and reduce stress on the road,” says Scott Li, DAT & active safety engineer, Ford Research & Engineering Center. “And while this technology is helpful, especially in unexpected situations, it doesn’t replace the necessity of an alert driver.”

Avoid the “crash”

Stay hydrated on the road. Drinking water, and the occasional coffee or tea, not only helps drivers stay alert, it also produces the need for more frequent bathroom breaks, providing the opportunity for movement and rest. Avoid sweets and fast food that cause the body to “crash” – and remember to stop for snacks. Ford’s own data shows that multitasking, such as eating while driving, increases accident risk. For a unique idea, police in Chongqing, China once spiced up long-distance drives by giving away dried chili peppers for free at gas stations to help drivers stay awake.

Snooze before you lose
Long-distance truck drivers, shift workers, new parents and teens are all at risk for driving drowsy.

“Signs that you’re too tired to drive include heavy eyelids, frequent yawning, difficulty focusing, inability to remember driving the last few kilometers, missing road signs or turns, difficulty maintaining speed and drifting out of your lane,” says Dr. Guanghai Wang, clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, and associate professor at the Shanghai Children’s Medical Center. “If you are planning a long trip and know that you might be tired, use a designated driver or alternate drivers, rather than risk driving while drowsy.”

Strategies to restore energy include:

  • Stretch to ease sore muscles.
  • Massage “pressure points” like the temples and back of the neck to focus attention and relieve strain.
  • Do quick exercises, such as jumping jacks or jogging in place, to boost energy.

For extreme fatigue, spend the night or take a nap in a safe place. Just remember that you’ll be groggy after waking up – a good time to grab that cup of coffee or tea.

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