The Dangers of Driving Drowsy

By Kimberly Graf. Published on January 17, 2024

Getting enough sleep is important. We all know this, but sometimes it's hard to put it into practice. If you get less than 7 hours of sleep a night (if you're an adult; 8 if you are a teenager), you might find yourself nodding off or blinking excessively while driving.

Awake at the Wheel: Healthy Sleep Project Launches Campaign to Decrease Avoidable Drowsy Driving-Related Motor Vehicle Accidents

The problem with driving while you're sleepy is that you don't have the same decision-making ability that you normally do. Since your brain is working at a much slower pace than normal, you can't be expected to stop in time or to move around a car that is stopped in the road.

The way that being drowsy affects your brain makes it difficult for you to think clearly and quickly, so you might not be able to react to these things like you normally would. Especially in areas with heavy traffic where things can change at a moment's notice, that's not a good thing.

But that doesn't mean that you can get away with highway driving while you're sleepy, either. The rumble strips on the side of the road are there to wake up drivers who may swerve or drift due to a lack of attention or drowsiness. If you find yourself hitting one of these rumble strips, it's probably time to pull over and get some rest or switch drivers.

drowsy woman

This is especially relevant for road trippers. Summertime especially is when a lot of people and families hit the road to explore the country by car. It's a great pastime, but a lot of people overdo it and end up driving past the time when they should have stopped. If you find yourself driving for more than 14 hours in a stretch, it's time to pull over or else run the risk of driving drowsy.

You might think that it's okay to caffeinate and continue to drive, but that isn't true either. Both driving while drowsy and caffeine limit your reaction times, so you might not be able to hit the brake in time if something suddenly changes.

For some people, drowsy driving doesn't display any of the above systems. Blurry vision is one of the sneaky signs of driving while tired. If you find yourself unable to focus on the lines or unable to pay attention to the car in front of you, it's also time to pull over. Some people can fall asleep with their eyes open, and this is even more dangerous than those who are obviously tired while driving.

blurry vision man

There are certain people who are more prone to drowsy driving than others. Working longer shifts makes you more tired on the road than you would normally be. Professional over-the-road drivers like semi-truck operators and delivery drivers are so more susceptible to being tired because they are on the road for days at a time. Also, you are at risk for not driving as safely if you don't get the recommended amount of sleep.

Some might say that distracted driving or drunk driving is worse, but drowsy driving can be just as deadly. You can get into fatal accidents just from not breaking at the right time or paying attention to a red light. If your reflexes are slowed, a half-second delay is all that it takes to put your life and the lives of your passengers in danger.

So how can you prevent this? Getting the proper amount of sleep is a good place to start, but it isn't always possible with busy schedules. Try setting up a sleep schedule and sticking to it; go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time in the morning. This helps your body know when it should be sleeping, and it helps you capitalize on the hours that you spend down.

many drivers are unaware of the fact that driving while drowsy poses

If you work long shifts, or the night shift, give yourself sometime after your shift to become more aware. By stopping to evaluate how tired you are, you can avoid getting on the road if you are too tired to drive. It also might help to have someone take you to work and pick you up if this is a common issue for you.

Sometimes, drowsy driving happens as a result of a disorder, and not necessarily the fault of the person who is driving. If you have a disorder or medical condition that makes you more prone to being sleepy while you're on the road, you should discuss these wakefulness issues with your doctor. There might be treatment available. Also, if you are on muscle relaxers or any other medication that warns against driving, don't assume that you'll be okay and drive anyway. Always heed the warnings on any medications you are taking, because you could be putting your own life and the lives of others on the line.

Drowsy driving is more common than you think, but don't be someone who falls asleep behind the wheel. By taking preventative steps and staying off the road if you are tired, you can make the road safer for everyone.


Mark David on 2/26/2024, said:

I've known over a dozen people in the last 50 years that have died after falling asleep at the wheel and having an accident. Some were soldiers in my unit, others were friends and relatives. I've had several close calls myself. My wife said it best: "Just get a room. It's cheaper than a wreck."

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