Tips for driving safely after a long flight
Big exciting trips often start with very long flights. But what if you need to pick up your rental car as soon as you land at the airport? Find out how to stay safe when you're driving a hire car straight after flying across the world.
It's not just the discomfort of it all that’s the problem – driver fatigue causes thousands of accidents every year, and the effects of being tired behind the wheel have even been likened to drink driving.
What are the challenges of driving after a long-haul flight?
Flying halfway around the world can leave you hungry, tired, aching, and a little cranky – not a great combination for getting behind the wheel and hitting unfamiliar roads in a different country. Figures from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) estimate that driver fatigue is at least partly responsible for 20% of road accidents in the UK, and up to a quarter of fatal and serious accidents – these crashes are around 50% more likely to cause death or serious injury as drivers who fall asleep can’t swerve or break to avoid the impact.
Even if you don’t actually fall asleep, tiredness reduces reaction time, vigilance, alertness, concentration and decision making – all essential for safe driving, particularly in another country where you’re not used to the roads.
But there are some things you can do, before, during and after your flight, to minimise the effects of fatigue and make your trip a lot safer and a lot more comfortable for everyone in the car.
Making your drive safer when you book
Preparation is the key to a safe journey following a long flight – here’s what you need to plan before you’ve even left for the airport:
- Share the driving – Add an additional driver when booking your rental car, so you can share driving duties when you land. If you don’t add the extra driver with the rental company, they won’t be insured to drive the hire car.
- Collect your car at the airport – Choose a rental company with a reputation for speedy pick-ups (check out some reviews before you book), and choose to pick your car up at the airport terminal, so you can get away as quickly as possible.
- Plan your trip – Plan the route you’re going to take well in advance of landing, even if you’ll be using a satnav/GPS when you get there. And make your first hotel stop as close to the airport as possible, to cut down on the amount of driving you have to do straight after touch-down.
How to stay awake after a long-haul flight
Long-haul flights can be exhausting, but follow these few simple rules and you’ll feel a little fresher and more ready to hit the road when you land:
- Set your watch by your destination time – If you can sleep when it's night-time at your destination, or stay awake when it's daytime there, you’ll minimise the effects of jetlag and feel much fresher when you land. If you can, try to get into the rhythm of your destination a day or two before you fly, and make sure you get a good sleep before you fly.
- Drink lots of water – Planes are notoriously dehydrating, but keeping yourself topped up with water is a simple way to help keep yourself feeling fresh and alert, particularly on a long-haul flight. Drink plenty of water the day before your flight, the day of your flight, during the flight, and once you’ve landed. It might be worth taking your own (empty) water bottle on board and asking cabin crew to fill it up for you as and when you need.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine – It’s always tempting to head straight to the bar before a flight, but avoid any alcohol, especially if you’re going to be driving when you land. And avoid any tea or coffee until you touch down, too – both alcohol and caffeine will disrupt your sleep, and can dehydrate you.
- Get up and about – If you’re not sleeping for the whole flight, make sure you regularly get up and about, and even do some stretches so you’re less likely to suffer from cramp or stiffness.
How to drive safely after a long-haul flight
Once you’ve landed – hopefully feeling refreshed and raring to go, or at least not dog tired – it’s time to pick up your car and hit the road. Follow these simple steps to help stay focused when you’re driving after a long flight:
- Keep drinking water – The benefits of drinking lots of water can never be overestimated, so make sure you pick up some at the airport to keep yourself hydrated and alert for the journey.
- Take regular breaks – Although you’ll most likely want to put the peddle to the metal and get to your destination as quickly as possible, factor in regular breaks, ideally at least one 15-minute pit stop every two hours. If you’re drinking enough water, you’ll probably need to factor in a few toilet breaks too.
- Take snacks and drinks – Eating snacks and drinking tea and coffee also helps keep you alert and awake, so keep yourself topped up for the journey – just make sure someone else is on hand to open any bottles or packets, so you’re not distracted from the road. Some countries have strict rules on what foodstuffs they allow in, so check before you fly or plan to buy some when you land.
- Let some cool air in – If you’re starting to feel drowsy, open a window or put the air con on – a blast of cool air can quickly bring you round.
- Play music – Try to play some upbeat music to help keep your concentration levels up by stopping your mind from wandering. It might also help to keep talking to anyone else in the car.
And that’s all there is to it – it may have taken you over 24 hours to get there, and seen you make more connections than you care to remember, but you’ll have arrived safely, and you can finally kick back and relax.