National Lampoon’s film Vacation portrayed the Griswald family’s madcap trek across the country to Wally World.  One particularly memorable scene depicted the entire family sleeping soundly and comfortably.  When the camera pans back we realize that they are asleep in a rapidly moving, out-of-control vehicle, and that Clark Griswald (Chevy Chase) is snoozing behind the wheel.

Chevy Chase National Lampoon's Vacation car crash

That scene got a lot of chuckles from audiences, but driver fatigue is no laughing matter. All too often, auto body repair shops witness demolished vehicles being slid off flatbed trucks and into the scrap yard. Accidents involving driver fatigue are twice as likely to result in fatalities because a sleeping driver is unable to brake or swerve.The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that there are 56,000 sleep-related road crashes annually in the USA, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities.  So how will you know if you are too tired to continue driving?  You probably won’t.

Sleep is not voluntary, so if you are drowsy you can fall asleep without knowing it.  During a “microsleep” of a few seconds, a car travel 100 yards — plenty of time to place yourself, your passengers and your vehicle in harm’s way.

Symptoms of fatigue often include slow reaction times, drifting between lanes, sore or tired eyes, poor concentration, blurred vision, impatience and constant yawning.  In many cases, drivers do not remember the last few miles of the trip.

The obvious solution is to get enough sleep the night before trip.  But stress, pressure and anxiety fatigue many drivers BEFORE they get behind the wheel.  Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and colas are no substitute for sleep.  The caffeine may make you feel temporarily alert, but the effects last only a short time.

Here are some safety tips for managing driver fatigue:

•Lack of sleep is the primary cause of fatigue.  The average adult needs seven or eight hours of sleep, so if you haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep, you’re courting disaster.  Try not to get started on a long journey late in the day.  The glare of lights at night contributes significantly to driver hypnosis.

•Make regular stops, at least every two hours.  Take a break at a restaurant or gas station.  Also, walk around your car, jog or do calisthenics.  Exercise wards off fatigue.  In addition to exercise, stop for light meals and snacks.  Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages that can contribute to drowsiness and impair your reflexes.

•Sunglasses reduce driver hypnosis and eye fatigue.  (Never wear sunglasses at night.)

•Avoid cruise control. Keep your entire body involved in the driving process.

•Your car’s environment can have an influence on keeping you awake and alert.  Keep the temperature cool in the summer and use only frugal amounts of heat in the winter.  Turn up the radio volume and change stations frequently.  Avoid stations that play sleep-inducing music.

•Be aware of your posture.  You should drive with your shoulders back and your head up.  Do not fully extend your legs.

If all of these anti-fatigue measures fail and you notice the symptoms of drowsiness and fatigue, the only solution is sleep. Avoid the need for auto body repair in the first place – find a safe, guarded rest area, truck stop or gas station, lock your doors and doze off for a power nap.  Even a 20-minute nap can be enough to get you safely to your destination or a nearby motel.