What is Drowsy Driving?

“Drowsy driving” occurs when a person who is operating a motor vehicle is too tired to remain alert. As a result the driver may have slow reaction times, reduced vigilance and impaired thinking. In the worst case the driver may fall asleep behind the wheel.

The U. S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drowsy driving is related to at least 100,000 motor-vehicle crashes and more than 1,500 deaths per year. About 71,000 drowsy-related crashes involve non-fatal injuries. The estimated annual monetary loss related to drowsy driving is about $12.5 billion. Drowsy driving often goes unreported when police complete an accident report. Unless the driver admits falling asleep, drowsy driving can be difficult to detect.

Drowsy Driving Facts

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Time – Accidents are most common late at night and early in the morning. This is the body’s natural sleep period. Sleepiness also can peak in the middle of the afternoon. Older adults are more likely to have a drowsy-driving accident in the mid-afternoon.

Speed – Severe drowsy driving accidents most often occur at high speeds on highways and other major roadways. However, drowsy driving accidents can occur slower speeds.

Driver Behavior – In many cases, drivers who are drowsy make no effort to brake or avoid an accident. Oftentimes, at least one vehicle may veer off the road.

Risk Factors

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Even one night of sleep loss or poor sleep can put you at risk of drowsy driving. But certain people have a higher risk of drowsy driving than others.

Untreated Sleep Disorders – Many people with either obstructive sleep apnea or narcolepsy remain untreated. A common side effect of sleep apnea is severe daytime sleepiness. Narcolepsy can cause you to fall asleep suddenly. These sleep disorders put you at risk for drowsy driving.

Shift Work – People who work night shifts or rotating shifts are at risk for drowsy driving. This includes people who work as doctors, nurses, truck drivers, pilots and police officers. The risk of drowsy driving is great when they drive home after work.

Medication Side-Effects – Many medications cause sleepiness as a side effect. People taking these medications are at higher risk for drowsy driving accidents.

Young Men – Drowsy-driving accidents are most common among young men in their teens, 20s and 30s. These accidents tend to occur between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Warning Signs

  • Yawning
  • Inability to keep eyes open
  • “Nodding off” and trouble keeping your head up
  • Inability to remember driving the last few miles
  • Ending up too close to nearby cars
  • Missing road signs or turns
  • Drifting into other lanes or onto rumble strips on the shoulder


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  • Rolling down the windows or turning up the volume on the radio will do little to increase your alertness while driving. These are some better ways to avoid drowsy driving:
    • Get a full night of seven to eight hours of sleep before driving
    • Avoid driving late at night
    • Avoid driving alone
    • On a long trip, share the driving with another passenger
    • Pull over at a rest stop and take a nap
    • Use caffeine for a short-term boost
    • Take a short nap after consuming caffeine to maximize the effect
    • Arrange for someone to give you a ride home after working a late shift

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