Driving Safety: Asleep At The Wheel

Drive safely and avoid falling asleep at the wheel.

Driving Safety: Asleep At The Wheel

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013. This holiday weekend, there will be more traffic on the roads. Note these helpful tips to help stay awake and alert for the long trip.

Driving When Tired...Myths

We have very little control over the onset of sleep. Studies prove that people have a limited ability to predict the onset of sleep, even if they think they can. Consequently, many people choose to ignore the signals that sleep is needed. They continue their trip believing they will make it to their destination safely.

Here are two common myths about driving when sleepy: (1) Most people believe that turning up the radio or rolling down a window will keep them alert and awake. This is simply not true. (2) Many also feel that chewing gum, eating, or drinking will relieve fatigue. Wrong again! There is no major evidence to support this.

Signs of Sleepiness

Your body will tell you when you are sleepy. Do not ignore the following warning signs:

  • A drowsy, relaxed feeling
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty keeping your eyes open
  • Head nodding
  • Excessive yawning
  • Repeatedly drifting out of your lane
Who Is at Risk? Everybody is at risk of collisions because of fatigue, especially:
  • Shift-workers with alternate shifts
  • Commercial drivers
  • People on monotonous drives
  • People with undiagnosed sleep disorders such as sleep apnea* and narcolepsy

If you do not fall within one of these main categories, it is still important not to place yourself in a situation that involves driving when you are tired.

Combating Sleepiness When Driving

Good ways to avoid sleepiness while driving are to:
  • Get plenty of sleep prior to a long trip.
  • Pull off the road for physical activity, caffeine, or a short nap (25 minutes).
  • Travel with another person and take turns driving.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol.
  • Avoid taking over-the-counter drugs such as allergy pills, cold medications, pain pills, and muscle relaxants.
  • Avoid driving after taking prescription drugs.
  • These can cause sleepiness.


  1. MedicineNet


Medically reviewed by Robert Bargar, MD; Board Certification in Public Health & General Preventive Medicine September 12, 2017

Department of Motor Vehicles (www.dmv.ca.gov)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel."

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