What is drowsy driving?

In today's fast-paced, 24/7, always-on culture, many Americans are chronically sleep-deprived. Not getting enough shut-eye before getting behind the wheel can result in slower reaction times and poor decision-making, leading to accidents, injuries, and death. But driving while drowsy is preventable. Understanding the signs of drowsy driving and ways of prevention can help you stay safe on the road.

3 min to read

Why is drowsy driving dangerous?

People who drive drowsy may experience microsleeps, which are short periods when they doze off for just a few seconds. It happens so quickly that you may not even realize it, but a few seconds is long enough to run off the road or into another vehicle or object along the road. Even if you don't experience microsleeps while driving, people who aren't well-rested are less aware of their surroundings, have slower reaction times, and are more likely to make poor decisions — all of which increase your risk of an accident.

According to The National Sleep Foundation, driving while drowsy kills more than 6,400 people in the United States annually. According to AAA, driving while drowsy is a factor in nearly 10% of all crashes. Accidents can also increase your insurance rate, and if you have too many accidents or other violations, your insurer may discontinue your coverage. Learn more about how accidents impact insurance.

Signs you're driving tired

Many people are so used to being sleep-deprived that they may not even realize they're tired. But driving when you haven't gotten enough sleep can have devastating consequences for you and those around you. Look for these signs that indicate it's probably time to pull over and take a break from driving:

  • You find yourself yawning frequently.
  • Your eyelids feel heavy, and you have difficulty keeping your eyes open.
  • You're having trouble focusing on the road and your surroundings.
  • You notice you're drifting into another lane or onto the shoulder of the road.
  • You don't remember driving the last couple of miles.

Drowsy driving prevention tips

Get enough sleep

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than a third of American adults don't get the recommended sleep they need. The CDC recommends that all adults get at least seven hours of sleep per night.

Check your medication

Check any medications you are taking as some medicines can cause drowsiness. Don't get behind the wheel after taking one.

Beware of medical conditions

Sleep disorders and other diseases can lead to fatigue. If you have been diagnosed with a medical condition, it's important to know how it may affect your driving ability.

Avoid drinking alcohol

Avoid any alcohol usage when driving. Alcohol causes sleepiness, and it's illegal to drink and drive. Don't drink if you plan to drive.

Drink caffeine

Drinking coffee or a caffeinated beverage can help you avoid drowsy driving. The caffeine boost you get from a cup of coffee can help you stay alert behind the wheel.

Take a break from driving

Long stretches of uninterrupted driving can cause fatigue. Stop every couple of hours to stretch your legs and move your body to help you stay alert. If possible, take turns driving with someone else.

Avoid driving late at night

Avoid driving between midnight and 6:00 a.m. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this is when the most drowsy-driving crashes occur.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration can cause various symptoms, including fatigue. According to The Cleveland Clinic, losing of as little as 1.5% of your body's water can lead to symptoms. Make sure you drink plenty of water. If you're too tired to drive, don't. Pull over somewhere safe where you can get some sleep before getting back on the road.

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