Cars are getting more secure, with new safety features added every year. So why isn’t driving safer?
It’s often because drivers don’t make the best choices. They’re a distracted group. Some are doing unsafe things like texting and driving or drinking and driving.
Others may not even know they are putting themselves — and all those on the road around them — at risk. That’s because they are distracted by something that’s not illegal. They are driving while drowsy.
In the car, distraction spells danger. The numbers are striking: In 2015, 3,477 people died because of distracted driving.
Drowsy driving often stems from a lack of sleep. But it can also be tied to untreated sleep problems, some medications and shift work.
Drivers who are sleepy:
- Are less able to pay attention to the road.
- Have slower response time when they need to turn or brake quickly.
- Have poorer decision-making skills.
The signs you may be driving while too tired to be safe are clear. You may find yourself:
- Blinking often
- Missing turns or exits
- Drifting into other lanes
- Driving over the strip at the side of the road
What to Do
If you find yourself feeling sleepy as you drive, pull over to a safe place to take a 20-minute nap or change drivers.
To prevent drowsy driving, remember:
- Drinking alcohol may increase drowsiness and impairment.
- Medicines can cause drowsiness. Read drug labels to check for that potential side effect. And consider using other transportation while taking medicine that makes you less alert.
- Skip driving during the peak sleepiness time (midnight to 6 a.m. and late afternoon).
- Stay aware of signs of drowsiness, especially if you’re driving alone.
- Drinking coffee or energy drinks is not always enough to keep you alert. They may help for only a short time. Sleep is the only cure for drowsy driving.
If you have a sleep-health problem, talk to your doctor about treatment plans.
Lower your risk for drowsy driving on road trips.
Planning ahead for a long drive can go a long way to help avoid the risk of drowsy driving. Be sure to get enough sleep the night before (aim for seven to nine hours). Plan to stop for a break every two hours or about every 100 miles. Plan out where you will take these breaks before you start your trip.
Sources: Saving lives: Improved vehicle designs bring down death rates, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 2015; Distracted Driving, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Your Guide to Healthy Sleep, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 2011; Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017; Drowsy Driving, The National Sleep Foundation