The Most Effective Ways to Avoid Drowsy Driving

By Ellie Porter | Managing Editor, SleepHelp.org

Drowsy driving is exceptionally dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration drowsy driving is a factor in an average of 2.5 percent of all fatal crashes each year, including an average of 886 deaths from drowsy driving. Drowsy driving is a factor in approximately 37,000 crashes with injuries each year as well.

Driving while fatigued can have serious effects on your ability to drive safely, including:

• Slowing down your reaction time and thought process
• Impairing your abilities and senses
• Impairing your judgement and vision
• Cause you to nod off or completely fall asleep

Drowsy driving can happen at any time, especially during hours when you’re normally sleeping. Often, drowsy driving accidents occur during the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Certain drivers are more at risk of drowsy driving than others. Commercial drivers, shift workers, young males, people with untreated sleep disorders, and people who don’t sleep enough at night are more likely to be involved in drowsy driving accidents than others.

You may be too sleepy to drive safely if you show signs of drowsy driving, including:

• Forgetting the last few miles you’ve driven
• Difficulty concentrating on the road
• Frequent yawning, blinking, or nodding

• Hitting rumble strips
• Missing your exit
• Drifting from your lane

If you think you’re too sleepy to drive safely, it’s important that you take action quickly to pull over while you’re still alert enough to do so safely.

The safest option is to simply pull over and change drivers or get some rest. You can take a nap, or stop for the night and start over fresh in the morning.

Caffeine can be especially effective in offering a safe way to drive when you’re tired. In fact, drinking coffee can be more effective than a short nap in reducing late night driving errors.

Even more effective is a coffee nap. If you’re feeling tired, take a coffee nap. Pull over and drink some coffee, then take a quick nap in your car before starting to drive again. You’ll feel refreshed from your nap and energized from coffee and ready to finish driving for the night until you reach your destination and get a full night’s sleep.

Of course, drowsy driving prevention is even more effective than naps and caffeine. Ideally, you can use the buddy system, switching drivers when you or your driving partners get too tired to drive safely. Otherwise, getting enough sleep before driving is key.

Make sure you’re getting a full night’s sleep before you get behind the wheel. Your bedroom should have a supportive mattress that matches your firmness preferences. For example, people who prefer a softer bed may want a memory foam mattress. Your bedroom should be your refuge before a long trip. Plan trips so you’re not leaving in the evening after a full day of work, but rather in the morning after you’ve slept all night. On long trips, plan to take a break every two hours to maintain energy and assess your alertness. If you’re feeling too tired, take a nap.

Avoid driving if you know you’re too tired to do so. If you’ve been awake for 20 hours or more, you should not be behind the wheel. It’s also important to avoid driving if you’re taking medications that can cause drowsiness. Never drive drunk, as drinking can impair your ability to drive safely and also induce drowsiness.