How to Stay Awake While Driving

how to stay awake while driving

FMB Photo / Getty Images

If you’re tired enough that you actually catch yourself nodding off, then the best way to stay awake while driving is to just find a safe place and pull over for a while. It may not sound glamorous, but it really is the safest possible action you can take.

Stop at a truck stop or roadside diner for a cup of coffee if you must, or just give in and take a quick nap. Either way, you’ll be doing yourself — and everyone else on the road — a huge favor. In fact, the AAA foundation recommends scheduling a break every 100 miles or two hours during long trips, whether you're tired or not. You might be able to keep yourself going with caffeine pills or energy drinks, but remember that when your caffeine level crashes, your car might too.

Driver Drowsiness Detection

While identifying that you're too tired and just pulling over is really the best way to stay awake while driving, it's pretty easy to push too far and start nodding off. In that case, there are actually technology-based solutions that can help you stay awake while driving, or at least alert you to the fact that you're nodding off.

This technology is referred to as driver drowsiness detection, and it is often found in the form of driver alert systems. These systems are available in late model new vehicles from all of the major OEMs, but they are far from universal just yet.

If you have a lot of trouble staying awake while driving, then you might want to look into a feature like Ford’s Driver Alert or Mercedes’ Attention Assist next time you’re in the market for a new car.

Each drowsiness detection system works differently, but the basic idea is that they use a variety of methods to sense when a driver is starting to nod off. Depending on the system, it may sound an alarm if your head starts to nod and dip or take corrective action if the car starts to drift out of its lane. Some of these systems will even require you to pull over, open your door, and get out of the vehicle for a given amount of time before the warning will reset.

If you're interested in this type of technology, you can learn more about these and other advanced driver assistance systems.

Low Tech Solutions

In addition to OEM and aftermarket high tech drowsiness detection systems, there are also a number of other ways to make sure that you’re alerted if you start to drift off. One device that some OTR truckers use is designed to hook over your ear and sense if your head starts to dip. If you do start to nod off, the device will sound an audible alarm to wake you back up.

When All Else Fails, Pull Over

Caffeine can keep you going for a long time, and drowsiness detection technologies can jolt you back awake if you start to nod off, but there comes a time when you need to give up, stop trying to stay awake while driving, and just pull off the road. Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, testing has shown that methods like rolling down your windows or cranking up your radio just don’t do any good. Pulling over for a cup of coffee, a quick nap, or even just a brisk walk to break the monotony of the open road, on the other hand, might just save your life.