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Make every road trip a safe trip

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Safe driving is no accident. Prior preparation and constant vigilance will ensure you get from one location to another in the safest manner possible.

· Drive only when well rested

· Drinking caffeinated drinks does not cure drowsiness while driving. Drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee or cola, can help you feel more alert, but the effects last only for a short time. If you drink coffee, soda or tea and are seriously sleep-deprived, you are still likely to have "micro-sleeps." These are brief naps that last only four or five seconds. At 55 miles an hour, you travel more than 100 yards -- and that's plenty of time to kill you.

· You can't tell when you are going to fall asleep. If you're like most people, you believe you can control your sleep. The truth is, sleep is not voluntary. If you are drowsy or seriously sleep-deprived, you can fall asleep and never even know it. You also cannot tell how long you've been asleep. Here are a few ways for you to tell if you're about to fall asleep. If you experience any of these danger signs, take them as a warning that you could fall asleep without meaning to:

-- Your eyes close or go out of focus by themselves.
-- You have trouble keeping your head up.
-- You can't stop yawning.
-- You have wandering, disconnected thoughts.
-- You don't remember driving the last few miles.
-- You drift between lanes, tailgate, or miss traffic signs.
-- You keep jerking the car back into the lane.

If you have even one of these symptoms, you may be in danger of falling asleep. Pull off the road and take a nap.

· The only safe driver is an alert driver. Even the safest drivers become confused and use poor judgment when they are sleepy. In order to be a safe driver, you must have your eyes open, and that means staying off the road when you're sleepy.

· Being sleepy makes you misperceive things. Have you ever driven at night and seen something you thought was an animal but turned out to be only a paper bag or a dead leaf? A drowsy driver doesn't process information as fast or as accurately as an alert driver, and is unable to react quickly enough to avoid a collision.
Watch out for wildlife

· There is a real reason for those Deer Crossing signs, and it is not for the deer! It is extremely rare for these indigenous creatures to travel alone. If you see one, rest assured there are more in close proximity. Slow down! Hitting a live moving object with four paws and a few hundred pounds has the distinct possibility of causing not only substantial damage, but also actually total loss of a vehicle, along with serious injury.
Learn from professional pilots

· Have a safety checklist. Be sure your windshield wipers are in good working order. Make certain that all lights are operating as they should be: brake lights, headlights, taillights, turn signals and high beams. Set your mirrors for optimum vision before you pull out onto the road. Don't tailgate and don't speed!

· Check your fluids, belts, hoses and brakes. Does the washer system have enough cleaner to keep your windshield clean? Is there plenty of antifreeze? Does the radiator have a full system so it doesn't overheat if you get stuck behind an accident, or caught in a tie up for a long period of time? Are the oil, power steering and brake fluids topped off? Are the belts and hoses in good condition? Have your brakes been recently checked by a qualified mechanic?

· Keep the following items in the trunk, preferably in a box so as to be readily available
-- Safety flares
-- Jumper cables (in case you leave the lights on too long)
-- Spare tire and jack.
-- Water sufficient for all persons in the vehicle
-- A gallon jug of water for the vehicle
-- At least one blanket
-- Extra windshield cleaner

The greatest number of auto accidents, occur between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. This is partly due to drivers becoming over tired, poor visibility and increased natural hazards as we discussed previously.

Finally, always buckle up. Remember those ads where the 9-pound baby without a seatbelt accelerates at the rate and weight of the 450-pound Sumo wrestler? It is true! Everyone should be wearing a seatbelt. It is also a great idea to buckle up or restrain pets. Be sure you and all of your passengers buckle up.

The bottom line?: Drive carefully, know your limitations, don't overextend yourself and make sure you are well rested.