It’s 5:30 p.m., and you’re headed out in your car to see your last client.
You buckle in, look over your shoulder, and vow to ignore that twinge in your neck, aching shoulders and five-hours-of-sleep brain fog—but the truth is, you feel like you could use some massage therapy yourself.
The physical demands of massage can do more than sap your energy. About 100,000 car crashes a year are caused by people who are simply too tired to drive, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Add to that unfamiliar roads, pressure to reach appointments on time, and random mishaps, and mobile massage therapists face hazards different from those encountered by most other health professionals.
These driving safety tips can help keep you alert, awake and safe on the road:
1. Know how long you’ve gone without sleep.
If you juggle work and school, or you work more than 60 hours a week, you may risk a fatigue-related crash. A driver who has been awake for more than 17 hours performs as well behind the wheel as someone with a blood alcohol level of 0.05 percent (0.08 percent is considered legally drunk in every state), according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).
Also, if you’re among the 21 percent of Americans who suffer chronic pain, you’re likely losing an additional 42 minutes of sleep per night, as reported in last year’s NSF Sleep in America™ poll.
In the interest of driving safety in addition to that of your health and well-being, reboot your routine so you can get seven or eight hours every night—not just on weekends.
2. Know how health conditions can affect driving safety.
Untreated sleep apnea, a condition in which you stop breathing and wake up many times during sleep, can impair driving safety in the same way as a 0.06 percent blood alcohol level, according to NSF reports. Sedating medications such as cold tablets, antihistamines and antidepressants may magnify the effect.
Talk with your physician if you suspect you might have sleep apnea, or ask about switching to medications not as likely to cause drowsiness.
3. Don’t ignore fatigue warning signs.
Heavy eyelids and yawning are hard to miss—but you also could be too tired to drive if you can’t remember the last few miles you’ve driven or you miss an exit on the highway.
If you feel dangerously drowsy, pull over in a safe location and call your massage client to try to bump your appointment time a little later. Then catch a parking lot catnap—just 20 minutes can have a positive effect—or gulp a cup of coffee, but know it takes 30 minutes for caffeine to kick in.
4. Don’t lull yourself to sleep.
Turn off cruise control; involving your body in driving helps keep you awake. Sing along to the radio, or stay alert with an engrossing audiobook. (This is a great excuse for a spine-tingling Stephen King or Dean Koontz thriller.
5. Fuel yourself up.
When you’re short on time, it’s hard to resist the drive-thru. Fat, salt and sugar drain stamina, while lean meats, fruits, veggies and whole grains boost it. For a quick pick-me-up, keep nuts in the car and grab a handful between trips.
6. Fuel up your car, too.
Don’t wait until the gas gauge hits E, especially if you’re working in unfamiliar neighborhoods. Set a half-tank-and-fill rule, especially in winter. That way, if you get stuck in a foul-weather traffic jam, you won’t risk idling yourself out of gas.
7. Don’t rely solely on GPS.
GPS can get lost sometimes, too, especially if you haven’t installed recent updates. Keep paper maps in your car in case your GPS tries to send you to an abandoned building or the middle of a lake.
8. Plan ahead for technical difficulties.
Whether it’s a flat tire, an empty gas tank, a dead battery or you lock yourself out, anything can happen when you travel to massage appointments. A roadside assistance plan can get you back on the road quickly after mechanical mishaps. Call your auto insurance company; it may offer a plan at prices lower than you’d pay with other providers.
9. Pack for peril.
Any time of year, carry a phone charger that plugs into your car’s accessory port, plus a first aid kit, jumper cables, flares or warning triangles, a crank flashlight (no dead batteries) and a fire extinguisher. If you wear contact lenses, keep a spare set in your glove compartment to avoid driving one-eyed if you lose a lens. To maximize driving safety in winter, add tire chains, an ice scraper, warm clothes, bottled water, and nonperishable food such as granola bars to this list.
10. Keep valuables out of sight.
Don’t tempt a thief with expensive equipment left visible in the back seat. Between massage appointments, stow everything you won’t use out of sight in the trunk. If you transport massage client records, keep these personally in your presence at all times, not locked in your vehicle.
About the Author
Lesa Huelsdonk is a copywriter in Mill Creek, Washington, who specializes in consumer and safety education for Northwest companies. For 14 years she worked at Seattle’s PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company as a writer-editor. As a freelancer, she continues to write articles on accident and loss prevention for PEMCO’s bimonthly newsletter, Perspective.