Avoiding Drowsy Driving

According to US government estimates (2008 numbers), drowsy driving causes 2.7 vehicular crashes per 100 million miles traveled.

How can you avoid becoming a drowsy driver? There are a number of measures you can take to reduce the risk to yourself and others.

    1) First, always try to make sure you get a good night’s rest, so you won’t be tired when driving during the day. You should try to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per day.
    2) If you take medications, read the warning labels on those medications. Some carry a risk of making you drowsy. If you use such a medication talk to your doctor about alternatives that may not make you drowsy, or try to find someone else who can do the driving.
    3)  Alcohol is worse than you think.  While you have heard not to drink and drive, some people think a drink or two won’t hurt, and that it’s alright as long as they are not drunk. However, alcohol can also make you tired, and while that one or two drinks may not create a drunk driver, they can exacerbate create a drowsy driver.
    4)  If you are heading out on a long drive, make sure to schedule regular breaks. Give your body a chance to get out of the car and get the blood flowing so you are less likely to grow lethargic and tired. Sleepiness can creep up on you quickly, so you should make it a habit to stop every 150 miles or so. Before you leave the house, you may want to use an online mapping program to find good stops along the path you will be taking. If you do notice you are getting tired, you need to stop and take a nap. The body responds well to napping, so just a short sleep break of 15 to 30 minutes should be enough to get you safely on your way again. Don’t sleep longer than that. Longer naps actually can make you more tired and make driving even more dangerous.
    5) Share the driving.  Try not to make these long drives alone. The other person can also be watching for signs that you are getting sleepy and let you know it’s time to get out of the driver’s seat.

False Cures

Many people believe they have a cure for drowsy driving. Some say caffeine will keep them going. Others employ tricks such as having a cigarette when they get tired, opening the window, or turning the radio up. None of these are real cures. They may do more harm than good, giving you a false sense of security.

Caffeine, while able to mitigate the effects of sleepiness, takes some time to kick in. If you are already tired when you first drink it, it may not help in time. Also, if you are a regular coffee or soda drinker, the effect will likely be much smaller and will not last as long as you think.

While taking in some nicotine can give a slight improvement in driving performance for a short time, the effects are not enough to overcome sleepiness.

Many believe distractions will help them stay awake so they turn the radio up loud or open a window, hoping the rush of wind will keep them awake. Once again, these will have a short-term effect, but a tired body is still a tired body.

Some people have looked to the commercial market for cures to drowsy driving. There are some inventions that are claimed to help by sending off an alarm when you start to doze off. The problem is, by this point, you have already lost control of the car, and the alarm could be too little, too late. In this area, the most effective way to make people wake up when they fall asleep at the wheel is the rumble strip on the side of the road. If you have swerved far enough to the side of the road to hit these and have been suddenly jarred awake, it’s time to pull over and take a nap.

The NHTSA's expert panel report on driver fatigue and sleepiness




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