Staying comfortable and alert while driving

Car sickness, heat stroke, fatigue and drowsiness are some of the ailments many of us are prone to during a long car trip. But they can all be prevented.

For people who suffer from carsickness, long trips in the car can be a nightmare: nausea accompanied by drowsiness, excessive salivation, perspiration, dizziness or headaches, irritability and, in severe cases, vomiting. While it may not be so simple, there are ways of fighting these unpleasant symptoms. Here are a few pointers: never leave on an empty stomach – that can make carsickness worse. Eat small amounts frequently during the trip: fruit is the food of choice to keep on hand. Sit in the front seat and look straight ahead. Don’t read, look down at the floor, fix your gaze on another moving object, or turn your head suddenly. Air out the car thoroughly before leaving – cigarette and perfume odours can increase symptoms tenfold.

For children in the back seat, leave the window nearest the carsick child slightly open to allow fresh air to circulate a little. Also, try to drive as smoothly as possible, accelerating and braking gently. Use the highways rather than country roads, and make frequent stops. And just in case, keep wet facecloths and a few plastic bags on hand.

Alcohol, medication and drugs
Alcohol consumption, even in tiny quantities, affects motorists’ behaviour in many ways. This means abstinence is called for. Also, any use of tranquilizers, anti-nausea drugs such as Gravol or other drugs intended to counter the effects of carsickness should be reconsidered or severely limited if you’re going to be taking the wheel. Driving a vehicle is a complex activity that requires our full attention, and some drugs can cause drowsiness that diminishes the alterness we need for safe driving. And, of course, the consumption of illegal drugs has no place behind the wheel.

Fatigue and drowsiness
Heat, road boredom – especially on highways – and long trips can produce fatigue and drowsiness that in turn lower reflexes and alertness, increasing the risk of accident. This low occurs most often at the beginning of the afternoon and in the middle of the night, while our concentration is at its best in the morning and at the end of the afternoon. That’s why it’s best to drive accordingly. The signs to watch our for are repeated yawning, tingling in the eyes, sore muscles, heavy sensation in the head, stiffness in the neck and squinting.

The best way to overcome fatigue and drowsiness is to get enough sleep before the trip. Once on the road, make several stops – at least every two hours – and take some fresh air, stretch your legs and snack a bit. Never travel from point A to point B without any stops at all. If your schedule is tight, you might arrange for a relief driver beforehand. Otherwise, 15-minute naps can help you recover, but nothing beats a good night’s sleep!

Even if you don’t tan in the car, you can still get sunburnt. Protect the kids from the sun by simply sticking up a car-window blind.

Dehydration and heat stroke
Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable when it’s very hot out. So if your car does not have air conditioning, you’ll need to take precautions to prevent them from becoming dehydrated very quickly in an overheated car. Have them wear loose, light-coloured clothing, in cotton or linen. Keep the windows open but not so much that your passengers get too much wind, which can irritate eyes and ears. It’s best to keep the ventilation system going with the vents aimed at the passengers.

When it’s very hot, make frequent stops. In addition to dehydration, extreme heat can cause fatigue and make everyone impatient. An absolute must is packing plenty of bottled water, which ought to be sipped along the way. This will prevent dehydration. Avoid cold drinks, which can be hard on the stomach.

Throughout the trip, keep a look out for signs of dehydration: strong thirst, profuse perspiration, fatigue, weakness, skin that is pale, cold and moist, dizziness, nausea and loss of consciousness. In the most serious cases, heat stroke can occur. Visible symptoms are very warm skin that suddenly turns red, dry or humid, high temperature, absence of perspiration, severe headaches, rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and loss of consciousness.

What do you do in case of dehydration? Have the person lie stretched out in a cool place. Elevate legs and feet. Remove as much clothing as possible, give regular sips of water, preferably water that is slightly salty (you can buy a rehydrating solution, such as Gastrolite, in pharmacies and pack it with your first-aid kit before your trip). Sponge the victim with wet, cool compresses when needed, particularly in the underarms, the back of the neck, the head and the groin. If symptoms seem severe or persistent, consult a physician right away.

If you can, travel during the night during a heat wave. The children are likely to sleep then and the temperature is a lot more agreeable. Just make sure that you’ve had enough sleep before taking the wheel. Or else leave at sunrise when it’s still relatively cool. And it goes without saying: never leave a child in a parked vehicle in full sun – not even for just a few minutes.

At the end of a very long drive, we usually feels sore in the back, neck, arms and legs. That’s why it’s important to move and regularly change position along the way. For example, change the seat position and the angle of the seat back often while making sure the configuration is always safe for driving. Use the armrests to relieve tension in the neck area. Keep your knees slightly bent. If need be, place lumbar rolls behind the small of your back and under your thighs. If you suffer from backaches or circulation problems in your lower extremities, make even more frequent stops. Vehicles with low seats that are not vertically adjustable are not well suited for people with backaches, especially over long drives. And the converse is true: vehicles whose seats can be adjusted up and down can make the drive more comfortable for passengers with back problems.

Heavy legs
On long car trips, it’s not unknown for legs to swell up. Sitting for a long time in the same position can bring on muscle cramps in the calves and increase the risk of thrombophlebitis. But you can prevent it happening by wearing loose and comfortable clothing that does not impede the circulation in your legs, drinking plenty of water before, during and after your trip (dehydration contributes to thrombophlebitis), making frequent stops to rid your legs of pins and needles, and stretching from time to time (arch your back, for instance).

In the car, move your legs, ankles and toes regularly to keep the circulation going, and try these little exercises: rotate your feet, play an imaginary piano with your toes, flex and extend your legs, stretch your feet and legs and contract and relax your calf muscles. Don’t cross your legs for long periods of time nor with your knees compressed against the edge of the seat – this can hinder the blood in your legs from returning upward.

By Jacqueline Simoneau
Translated by John Woolfrey