April 2012 Safety Tip

Drowsy Driving


Many people are planning the next long road trip. We take road trips year round – whether it’s hot or it’s cold. Most people do not give any thought to the potential dangers of carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide poisoning when they get in their vehicle. But the risk of accidental poisoning and the resultant vehicle accident is always there.

Vehicles tend to give off more carbon monoxide emissions during colder weather when more fuel is required to start and run the engine. Carbon monoxide is the incomplete combustion of fuel and it can enter your vehicle if there is any small leak in the exhaust system. Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless. The symptoms may include headache, dizziness, tiredness, flu-like symptoms, nausea and even unconsciousness. If you experience any of these symptoms while driving, you should consider having your vehicle checked for carbon monoxide leakage.

Carbon dioxide is generated in the vehicle when it is exhaled as we breathe and it can cause drowsiness. At room temperature it is an odorless, colorless gas, which is faintly acidic and non-flammable. The more people in a vehicle with the windows rolled up and the air conditioning or heater on max, the more carbon dioxide.

Could a simple control help reduce auto crashes from carbon dioxide poisoning? Look at the heating and air conditioning controls in your vehicle. Known as the air recirculation/outdoor air controller, it is sometimes also called the maximum air conditioning (AC) control and it is often the default setting. In the summer it boosts your vehicle cooling power and in the winter it provides extra warmth, by keeping the outside air out and recirculating the air inside the vehicle.

On long trips under these circumstances you may notice when you begin to get sleepy that if you open the window you feel refreshed. The outdoor air is clearing out and replacing the carbon dioxide you have been breathing. We can’t keep the vehicle windows open all the time we’re in the vehicle, but you might consider cracking the window and once you get away from the heavy traffic fumes, changing the control setting.

To view a printable version of this safety tip, click here