7 Signs of Drowsy Driving — And What to Do

by Susan Evans

Road trip! While you may be tempted to push forward if you’re getting close to your destination, these drowsy driving statistics should change your mind:

  • According to a 2016 National Sleep Foundation report, sleep-deprived drivers cause more than 6,400 deaths and 50,000 debilitating injuries on American roadways each year.
  • Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that in recent years, there are approximately 56,000 crashes annually in which driver drowsiness/fatigue was cited by police.
  • Studies show that being awake for more than 20 hours results in an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, the legal limit across America.

It’s not only the long trips that can trigger a need for sleep, says Randy Sturdivant, vice president of Vertical Alliance Group.

“There is a common misconception that drowsiness only happens on very long trips/drives,” said Sturdivant. ” But in fact, studies show many cases of drowsy driving actually result from lifestyle choices that can cause problems even on fairly short drives of less than an hour. In particular, if the lack of sleep is combined with alcohol use, a driver may not be able to recognize when it is time to get out from behind the wheel.”

Warning Signs

With that in mind, here are some warning signs from the National Sleep Foundation that it’s time to pull over and get some shut-eye;

  1. Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids
  2. Daydreaming; wandering/disconnected thoughts
  3. Trouble remembering the last few miles driven; missing exits or traffic signs
  4. Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes
  5. Trouble keeping your head up
  6. Drifting from your lane, tailgating, or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
  7. Feeling restless and irritable


Here are some tips to get you ready for your journey.

  1. Get enough sleep the night before
  2. Don’t drink alcohol and be aware of the sedating effects of certain medications
  3. Take rest breaks every 100 miles or so
  4. Travel with a companion so you can talk with them

As for coffee, while a cup or two can help, it takes at least 30 minutes for a “java jolt” to kick in. Plus, if you are a regular coffee drinker, it will be less effective.

See Something?

Do you see questionable driving? Sturdivant points out that, first of all, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a drowsy driver and a driver who is under the influence, since the driving behavior can be similar.

“In either case, the first step is to stay as far away from the suspected drowsy or impaired driver as possible,” he says. “Then, you have the option to pull over and call your local police department to report the incident and have them check it out. This action is recommended not only for the protection of others on the road, but also the drowsy driver, who may not even be aware of his or her dangerous condition.”

For More Information

National Sleep Foundation (NSF)
NSF is dedicated to improving health and well-being through sleep education and advocacy.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Drowsy & Distracted Driving
The site has information and tips on how to avoid drowsy driving. NHTSA was established by the Highway Safety Act of 1970 and is dedicated to achieving the highest standards of excellence in motor vehicle and highway safety. It works daily to help prevent crashes and their attendant costs, both human and financial.

American Academy of Sleep Medicine
The only professional society dedicated exclusively to the medical subspecialty of sleep medicine. Its Sleep Education site has information for consumers.

Photo Credit: Pavel L Photo and Video

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