Preventing Drowsy Driving

by William Mattar | September 5th, 2014

Did you know that being drowsy can impair your driving as much as drinking alcohol? In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, going 18 hours without sleep is equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, giving you an equal risk of a crash as someone who is legally drunk.

Those most at risk for drowsy driving include: males under 25 years old, shift workers and those who work long hours, commercial drivers, people with undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders, and business travelers, but it can happen to anyone.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that almost 50% of people who fell asleep and crashed reported that they felt only “slightly drowsy” or “not at all drowsy” right before the accident. The bottom line is that you cannot prevent yourself from falling asleep if you are tired. It is something that your body does naturally, and you may fall asleep without even knowing it. Scott A. Reale, MD explains in Prevention magazine that sitting still for long periods of time while driving makes your brain think you are resting, triggering it to go into sleep mode. So, even if you aren’t sleepy when you start your journey, you may unexpectedly become so while on the road.

It’s important to be aware of signs that you are getting tired. These symptoms may show up before you even begin to feel sleepy, but they indicate that you are at risk for falling asleep at any time. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s website, drowsydriving.org, signs that you are getting tired and should stop and rest include:

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

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should pull over in a safe area, such as a parking lot or a rest stop to take a break. A 15-20 minute nap is ideal, possibly followed by some caffeine.

Before you set out on a long drive, you should make sure to get 7-9 hours of sleep, travel with a passenger who can help keep you alert by talking to you, stop every 100 miles or two hours, and avoid alcohol and medications.

Following these simple tips can help ensure that you and your passengers reach your destination safely.