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Driving 24+ Continuous Hours Cross-Country

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Rule One - Don't do it.

It is nearly impossible to stay awake for 24 hours, much less more than 24. Your body will rebel. You'll want to stay awake, but it will be 1am and the monotony of continuous driving will hypnotise you. Without sleep, you'll become nauseous and your brain will cease to function. Your reflexes will slow. Your eyes will start to close of their own accord. Every time you begin to swerve off the road, you will be rudely awakened by the ripples at the edge that shake your car and make a monstrous noise. When you swerve into the opposite lane, however, there will be no saving ridges.

The UK-based Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions estimates that 20% of accidents are caused by drivers who have fallen asleep at the wheel (this number does not include accidents caused by the bad judgement that results from driver 'tiredness'). Most accidents that are caused by sleepiness are much more severe because of the high speed of impact (the driver often does not brake before hitting the obstacle). And in 1997, the United States' National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that each year, accidents caused by asleep and drowsy drivers cost $12.5 billion in diminished productivity and property loss.

Driving without break, especially during the hours between midnight and 6am (and between 2pm and 4pm, although this is a smaller trough), can be devastating. Unfortunately, many people do not think that falling asleep at the wheel can or ever will apply to them. They are wrong.

Before anyone ever attempts to drive long distances without stopping for the night, he or she needs to be aware of what will happen and should try to approach it from the safest avenue possible. These are some hints for safe distance driving. They are only hints however, and you yourself always need to be aware of your state of mental-tiredness. You also need to be humble enough to change drivers or take a break as soon as you feel you might need to.

  1. Carpool with at least three other drivers that you can trust. Four drivers is passable; three cannot make it with a minimum of danger. Trust the other drivers to stay awake and to know when they are too tired to continue safely.

  2. Sleep in shifts with these others; don't be afraid to wake one of them up if you feel like you will fall asleep behind the wheel - he or she would much rather be awoken than dead.

  3. Always have two people awake at any time - the freshest one driving and the other talking (quietly) with the driver. The passenger should keep his or her eyes open for any sign of fatigue or sleepiness.

  4. Only drive for 2-3 hours before taking a 15-minute (or more) break. Switch drivers; stop for fuel. Move around - dance in the gas station's parking lot, or do cartwheels at the 24-hour fast food joint. At least make a few laps around the building and breathe deeply. If each driver drives in this manner for two hours, four drivers will last from 9pm until 6am the next morning - daytime driving (with some rest) shouldn't be the hard part.

  5. Try to get at least one person to sleep by 9pm, so he/she will be rested for the 11-1 o'clock shift, which would otherwise be attempted without sleep.

  6. Remember that it is very difficult to sleep in a moving car. You won't be as rested as usual after 4-6 hours of semi-sleep. Plan accordingly.

  7. Follow all the laws of the country and/or state that you are in. They exist for a reason! Wear your seatbelt (even if you are asleep); seatbelts save lives. And don't drink and drive! Drinking only one alcoholic beverage can have the deleterious effect of three or four drinks without a good full night's rest.

  8. When you drive, make sure to check your mirrors, even if you think that there is no-one coming. (The other vehicle might surprise you; being unexpectedly buffeted by a truck is not a good or a safe experience.) Whenever you pass someone, signal the lane change - make sure that they realise you are moving over. You are doing what you can to be completely awake at 3am; you cannot know if the other vehicles are.

  9. If you ever exercise poor judgement, or are late in returning to the correct lane after passing someone, the passenger needs to call attention to it and suggest a switch in drivers or a midnight nap.

Research has shown that people are generally consciously aware that they are becoming tired, and instead of stopping, try to 'fight off' falling asleep in a variety of ways. These next bullets are warning signs. If you find yourself doing any of these things or anything else along these lines to stay awake, or you doubt your driving abilities at 4am more than you doubted them at 4pm (even a small bit more), stop the car. It isn't a sign of weakness; it's a sign of prudence.

  • Singing or bouncing in your seat.
  • Eating or drinking to get that extra bit of caffeine, or to keep something in your body moving.
  • Stretching.
  • Letting the temperature drop to keep it out of your 'comfort zone'.

Most importantly, if you do not think you can make it, don't be afraid to pull off the road. Take a few hours' nap. You'll get there a lot slower (if at all) if you are in a wreck.

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