Driving when you are tired puts you and other drivers at risk of being involved in an auto accident. This type of driving is dangerous and could have fatal results. Here is your guide to drowsy driving and tips on how to avoid it.

What Is Drowsy Driving?

Drowsy driving occurs when you drive when you’re sleepy, which often occurs when you do not have an adequate amount of sleep. However, you can also become drowsy due to a sleep disorder or other underlying medical condition. Certain prescriptions and over-the-counter medications often have side effects, and becoming drowsy can be one of them. Drinking can cause you to become impaired and drowsy.

No one can pinpoint the exact moment when sleep will come over their body. Falling asleep behind the wheel is dangerous because it affects your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, even if you don’t fall asleep.

Driving while drowsy can have the following effects:

  • Slows your reaction time
  • Makes it harder to concentrate and focus
  • Affects your ability to make good decisions

According to a survey, the CDC estimates that 1 in 25 adult drivers (at least 18 years of age) have reported falling asleep while driving in the past 30 days. The same survey suggested that adult drivers who snore or often sleep no more than 6 hours per day are more likely to report falling asleep while operating a motor vehicle than drivers who do not snore and get an adequate amount of sleep (at least 7 hours) per day. In 2017, drowsy driving was a factor in 91,000 auto accidents, resulting in 50,000 injuries and almost 800 fatalities.

Some drivers are more at risk of drowsy driving and related crashes and fatalities, such as teenagers and young adult drivers. Other drivers who are more at risk for being involved in an accident that stems from drowsy driving include the following:

  • Drivers who are on the road between midnight and 6 AM, or later in the afternoon
  • Drivers who don’t get an adequate amount of sleep
  • Commercial truck drivers
  • Drivers who work long shifts or night shifts
  • Drivers who have untreated sleep disorders (ex. sleep apnea)
  • Drivers who use medications that make them drowsy or sleepy

What Are the Most Common Signs of Being Drowsy While Driving?

The most common signs of drowsy driving include the following:

  • Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven
  • Blinking or yawning frequently
  • Drifting into different lanes
  • Missing your exit
  • Hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road

If you exhibit any of these drowsy driving signs, let someone else drive, if possible. Be advised that opening a window or turning up the radio are not effective ways to help you stay awake and alert.

How to Prevent Drowsy Driving Before Driving

You can take the following steps to prevent drowsy driving:

  • Get an adequate amount of sleep. In general, adults need at least 7 hours of sleep each day. Teenagers need to sleep at least 8 hours each day.
  • Develop healthy sleeping habits, such as creating a sleep schedule
  • If you have been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, or you have multiple symptoms of a specific sleeping disorder, such as snoring or feeling fatigued and sleepy during the day, speak with your doctor about your treatment options.
  • Before operating a motor vehicle, avoid taking medications that make you sleepy. If you are unsure of the side effects, check the label on the medicine bottle or speak to your pharmacist.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before driving. Drinking alcohol impairs your judgment, slows the skills required to safely operate a motor vehicle, and increases drowsiness.

Is Drowsy Driving Common?

Drowsy driving is a common contributing factor to many motor vehicle collisions. The NHTSA states that in 2017, drowsy driving led to more than 50,000 auto accidents which resulted in over 30,000 injuries and more than 500 fatalities. In other studies, the data reveals that drowsy driving causes up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year.

What Is the NHTSA?

The National Highways Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a U.S. federal agency that enforces vehicle performance standards and partners with state and local governments to reduce deaths, injuries, and economic losses from motor vehicle accidents.

Why Is Drowsy Driving Dangerous?

Drowsy driving is dangerous because it tremendously increases the risk of an auto accident, often caused by microsleep, which is when a person dozes off for a few seconds. When microsleep occurs while driving, it’s easy to run off the road, run into another vehicle, or damage someone’s property. The damage anyone or anything sustains from crashes caused by drowsy driving increases when they occur at high speeds.

Drowsy driving is dangerous even if you don’t fall asleep. Sleep deprivation leads to mental impairment, which is similar to drunkenness. Did you know that 24 hours of sleep deprivation equates to a blood alcohol content (BAC) of approximately 0.10%?

With a BAC this high, the impairment makes you less attentive to your surroundings, and you become easily distracted. In addition to slowing your reaction time, drowsy driving will also make it more difficult to avoid dangers on the road. When you engage in drowsy driving, you don’t think as clearly as you should, leading to poor decision-making, which can lead to taking unnecessary risks behind the wheel.

What Are the Causes of Drowsy Driving?

The following are different factors that can play a role in drowsy driving:

  • Sleep deprivation: a lack of sleep is the leading cause of excessive sleepiness during the daytime, which can include microsleeping and other dangerous driving behaviors.
  • Sleep disorders: a lot of sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea (obstructive) cause an individual’s sleep to be restricted, interrupted, and less restorative. Many people have sleep disorders and don’t realize it. When left untreated, sleep disorders can cause daytime drowsiness.
  • Alcohol: drinking alcohol can cause sleepiness, and affect your time and decision-making to the point it increases the risk of auto accidents.
  • Medications: different medications, prescribed and over-the-counter, can cause sleepiness, including dietary supplements. If you take dietary supplements, especially at night, it can cause grogginess to linger the next morning.
  • Time of day: auto accidents that are caused by drowsy driving often occur between midnight and 6 AM, or during the mid-afternoon, which is when sleepiness is at its peak.

Drowsy driving can affect anyone who is driving, but some specific individuals are at a higher risk of auto accidents that are related to drowsy driving, including the following:

  • People who drive for a living, such as bus drivers and long-haul truckers
  • People who work irregular shifts, night shifts, or work long hours
  • People who have severe issues sleeping, such as insomnia and other sleep disorders
  • Teenager drivers who have less driving experience and a high rate of sleep insufficiency

Preventing Drowsy Driving in Different Scenarios

There are different steps you can take to avoid many of the dangers associated with drowsy driving. Since drowsy driving can occur at any time, we’ve created a list of things you can do in different situations to ensure you and others are safe on the road.

Before Driving

Before operating a motor vehicle, you should do the following to prevent driving while drowsy:

  • Planning: planning ahead allows you to get more done in a short amount of time. If you have a long day of errands ahead of you, break the day into smaller trips until you get everything done.
  • Avoid “drowsy hours”: everyone’s body has an internal clock. In general, your internal clock will make you sleepy between midnight and 6 AM, and in the early afternoon. It’s a good idea to reduce your travel time between these hours.
  • Budget your time: when it comes to budgeting your time, make sure you’re setting aside time so your body can recharge.
  • Get a good night’s sleep: sleep is essential because your body needs to recharge from the day’s activities, whether you’ve had a busy, hectic day or not.
  • Avoid alcohol and other sedatives: alcohol and other sedatives can interfere with your quality of sleep and could cause you to be drowsy the next day.
  • Bring a companion: if you know you’re taking a long trip or if it doesn’t take much for you to get sleepy while driving, take someone with you who can drive when you start feeling sleepy. A companion can also help keep you awake.

While You’re Driving

While you’re driving, you can take the following steps to keep you alert and aware to prevent drowsy driving:

  • Be on the lookout for warning signs: if you notice that you’re getting sleepy or experiencing other signs of drowsiness, look for somewhere safe to pull over and rest, such as a parking lot or rest stop. Don’t try to push through and drive if you’re sleepy. You can prevent injuries and fatalities by resting.
  • Be aware of “tricks” that help you stay awake: some drivers try different tricks to help them stay awake, such as blasting the air conditioning, opening the windows, or turning on the radio. However, if your body is tired, you’re going to be tired regardless of what tricks you try.
  • Don’t push yourself: one common mistake drivers often make is pushing their body to make the trip, whether it’s a short or long distance. You should never push your body to perform when it’s tired. That’s similar to trying to get a car to start without gas. Without the proper amount of sleep, your body doesn’t have the energy required to get you through your day.

Adopting Healthy Sleep Habits

Sleeping is essential. Getting a good night’s rest is the best way to prevent drowsy driving. Getting a good night’s rest can ensure you get better sleep each night. You need to focus on sleep hygiene, which includes maintaining a stable sleep schedule, limiting your use of electronic devices at night before bed, and ensuring your bedroom promotes a healthy sleep environment. A healthy sleep environment is quiet, and dark and promotes uninterrupted sleep.

If you experience constant issues with sleeping, speak with your physician about the options that are available to help you sleep, especially if you experience daytime sleepiness often. Your doctor can help you identify any underlying causes that prevent you from sleeping and create a specific course of action.

Drowsy driving is serious! You should never drive while drowsy. Get some sleep so you can properly tackle different tasks during the day. Stay safe and alert. Happy driving!