Study: Driving while dehydrated as dangerous as driving drunk

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | Tuesday, July 21, 2015

As temperatures climb near and above triple digits in many parts of the U.S., drivers are in danger of heat-related illnesses. Researchers at Loughborough University in England released a study earlier this year that suggests that even mild dehydration while driving has the same effects as drunk driving.

Published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Physiology & Behavior, the research involved male drivers using a driving simulator while fully hydrated and while dehydrated. While hydrated, there were a total of 47 incidents using the simulator. The number of incidents more than doubled to 101 when the men were dehydrated, numbers similar to those of driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

“Anecdotal reports suggest that many drivers avoid drinking adequately, with a view to limiting the need for bathroom stops during long journeys,” the study explains.

Mild hypohydration, or dehydration, can cause headaches, weakness, dizziness and fatigue, researchers in the study pointed out. People suffering from dehydration also report feeling tired and lethargic while being less alert and unable to concentrate.

And if drivers think that cranking the air conditioner will solve the problem, think again. According to the study, “evaporative water losses from the skin and lungs are likely to accumulate during a long drive due to exposure to dry air because of the increased vapor pressure gradient.” In plain English, the body can still lose water with the AC on if it is not frequently replenished.

According to the U.S. National Institute of Health, dehydration can be caused by sweating too much, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and urinating too much (diabetes and medications can induce urination without fluid intake).

Symptoms of dehydration include darker yellow urine, headache, muscle cramps, dry and cool skin, dry mouth and not urinating much. Severe dehydration symptoms may include sunken eyes, listlessness, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, irritability, confusion, dry skin and very dark yellow or amber-colored urine.

If dehydrated, sipping water or sucking on ice cubes may help. Sports drinks with electrolytes are also recommended. Always make sure to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, especially in extreme weather. Do not take salt tablets as they can cause complications.

Truckers driving in high altitudes are at a higher risk of dehydration. According to the Mayo Clinic, the body attempts to adjust to higher altitudes through increased urination and more rapid breathing. Heavier breathing can dehydrate the body since more water vapor is being exhaled. High altitudes are generally defined as 8,200 feet and above.

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