Drive Alert and Stay Unhurt
July 25, 2022
Learn the risks of drowsy driving and how to protect yourself.
What is Drowsy Driving?
Operating a motor vehicle while fatigued or sleepy is commonly referred to as “drowsy driving.”
The Impact of Drowsy Driving
Drowsy driving poses a serious risk not only for one’s own health and safety but also for the other people on the road.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates1 that between 2005 and 2009 drowsy driving was responsible for an annual average of:
- 83,000 crashes
- 37,000 injury crashes
- 886 fatal crashes (846 fatalities in 2014)
These estimates are conservative, though, and up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers.
How Often Do Americans Fall Asleep While Driving?
- Approximately 1 out of 25 adults aged 18 years and older surveyed reported that they had fallen asleep while driving in the past 30 days.
- Individuals who snored or slept 6 hours or less per day were more likely to fall asleep while driving.
How Does Sleepiness Affect Driving?
Falling asleep at the wheel is very dangerous but being sleepy affects your ability to drive safely even if you don’t fall asleep. Drowsiness—
- Makes drivers less attentive.
- Slows reaction time.
- Affects a driver’s ability to make decisions.
The Warning Signs of Drowsy Driving
If you experience any of the warning signs of drowsy driving while driving,
pull over to a safe place and take a 15–20 minute nap or change drivers.
Simply turning up the radio or opening the window are not effective ways to keep you alert.
More tips on how to stay awake:
- Yawning or blinking frequently.
- Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven.
- Missing your exit.
- Drifting from your lane.
- Hitting a rumble strip.
For more warning signs visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Who Is More Likely to Drive Drowsy?
- Drivers who do not get enough sleep.
- Commercial drivers who operate vehicles such as tow trucks, tractor trailers, and buses.
- Shift workers (work the night shift or long shifts).
- Drivers with untreated sleep disorders such as one where breathing repeatedly stops and starts (sleep apnea).
- Drivers who use medications that make them sleepy.
How to Prevent Drowsy Driving
There are four things you should do before taking the wheel to prevent driving while drowsy.
- Get enough sleep! Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep a day, while adolescents need at least 8 hours.
- Develop good sleeping habits such as sticking to a sleep schedule.
- If you have a sleep disorder or have symptoms of a sleep disorder such as snoring or feeling sleepy during the day, talk to your physician about treatment options.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or taking medications that make you sleepy. Be sure to check the label on any medications or talk to your pharmacist.
Drowsy Driving Is Similar to Drunk Driving
Your body needs adequate sleep daily. The more hours of sleep you miss, the harder it is for you to think and perform as well as you would like. Lack of sleep can make you less alert and affect your coordination, judgment, and reaction time while driving. This is known as cognitive impairment.
Studies have shown that going too long without sleep can impair your ability to drive the same way as drinking too much alcohol.
- Being awake for at least 18 hours is the same as someone having a blood content (BAC) of 0.05%.
- Being awake for at least 24 hours is equal to having a blood alcohol content of 0.10%. This is higher than the legal limit (0.08% BAC) in all states.
Additionally, drowsiness increases the effect of even low amounts of alcohol.