Be an Alert, Safe Driver . . . Driving Drowsy is Dangerous

By Mark Rosekind

Man asleep at the wheelAt the end of a drive, ever pull in to your destination but don’t remember how you got there? Every year, 1.9 million drivers have a fatigue-related crash or near miss. Drowsy driving can be as lethal as driving under the influence of alcohol, yet drivers continue to underestimate the risk or don’t take actions to drive safer. Fatigue is often identified by the NTSB as a cause of major accidents where lives were lost or people were seriously injured.

So what causes drowsy driving? Adults need about 8 hrs of sleep but most average less than 7 hrs; and getting even 2 hrs less sleep than you need can impair performance. Over time, when you lose sleep, it builds into a cumulative sleep debt and it could take a couple nights of sleep to zero out your debt. Our brains are programmed to have us awake and active during the day and asleep at night (circadian rhythms). So, when you are driving at night, in the early morning hours, your brain’s natural state is sleepy. Being awake too many hours, using sedating medications, sleep disorders (e.g., sleep apnea) and other factors can create fatigue and make you a drowsy driver.

How can you be a safer, more alert driver? First, learn the warning signs for drowsy driving. Before you drive, be sure you have sufficient sleep to be awake and alert. Plan for driving breaks, even if you don’t feel tired. Long drives and night time driving deserve extra planning to ensure your alertness. Short naps and caffeine can boost performance and alertness; learn about their effective and strategic use. Classic strategies to stay awake, such as rolling the window down, turning up the radio or having the interior lights on may help but only for 10 minutes. Learn more about drowsy driving and effective strategies. Driving drowsy is dangerous. Don’t underestimate it . . . take actions to always drive alert!

Member Mark RosekindMark Rosekind, Ph.D., is a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board. He is a frequent contributor to the NTSB blog.

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