Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving is a serious problem. A 2002 poll by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that about one-half of America's adult drivers - some 100 million people - said they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy. About 17 percent, or 32 million people, admit they actually fell asleep at the wheel.

Sleep deprivation increases the risk of a sleep-related crash. The fewer hours a person sleeps, the greater the risk. Untreated sleep disorders and driving overnight also contribute to drowsy driving.

So, who is at risk?

NSF's poll found those most at risk for sleep-related crashes are young people between the ages of 18-29, men, adults with children, and shift workers. A study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that people who sleep six to seven hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in a sleep-related crash as those who sleep eight or more hours. Those who drive after sleeping five hours or less are four or five times as likely to have such a crash.

According to NSF, drowsy driving crashes are most likely to occur during periods when the body's natural tendency is to be asleep, particularly between Midnight and 6:00 a.m. Another peak time is 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., when our internal body clocks or circadian rhythms have a tendency to take an afternoon dip, resulting in a period of sleepiness.

There are many signs that drowsiness is setting in when you're behind the wheel.  It is important to pay attention to these signals:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking or heavy eyelids
  • Trouble keeping your head up
  • Yawning repeatedly
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip

We offer these tips to prevent drowsy driving:

  • Plan ahead and get plenty of sleep before getting on the road.
  • A caffeinated beverage such as coffee or an energy drink can promote short-term alertness, but it takes about 30 minutes for the caffeine to enter the bloodstream.
  • Take a 15-20 minute nap while you're waiting for the caffeine to kick in.
  • Don't try "tricks" to stay awake, like blasting a radio or opening a window - they don't work.