Have you even gotten behind the wheel drowsy? Would you ever tell someone who has been consuming a lot of alcohol to get in the car and drive? Driving while sleepy can impair your driving performance as much as driving after consuming alcohol (Powell et al., 2001). Thus, driving drowsy is very risky and you could be putting yourself and others in significant danger.
When very tired, reaction times are slower which means it would take longer to brake or make other important quick decisions on the road (Jackson et al., 2013). In addition, significant fatigue makes it more difficult to concentrate on the road. Concentration is very important when driving a vehicle. Decision-making is also impaired, even after just a couple of hours of sleep deprivation.
Over 25% of drivers admit to having driven while they were “so sleepy that [they] had a hard time keeping [their] eyes open” within the past month (AAA, 2010). It is estimated that one out of every six (16.5%) deadly traffic accidents is due to drowsy driving (AAA, 2010). There have been many stories in the news about negative consequences of falling asleep while operating a transportation vehicle (e.g, train, large trucks).
If you feel too drowsy to drive, then avoid getting behind the wheel. Take public transportation, ride shares, or call a friend/family member for a ride. If you are already driving when you begin to feel drowsy, pull over and call someone else for a ride. Opening the window or blasting the radio is not going to help you stay awake and alert while driving.
The following are signs you may be driving while drowsy:
You slept less than 5 hours last night
Frequent blinking or yawing
Spacing out a lot with difficulty remembering the last miles driven
Missing your turn/exit
Hitting the rumble strip on the side of the road
Finding yourself drifting from your lane
American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety, 2010. Asleep at the wheel: The prevalence and impact of drowsy driving, http://www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/2010DrowsyDrivingReport.pdf.
Jackson, M. L., Croft, R. J., Kennedy, G. A., Owens, K., Howard, M.E. (2013) Cognitive components of simulated driving performance: Sleep loss effects and predictors. Accident Analysis and Prevention 50: 438–444.
Powell, N.B., Schechtman, K.B., Riley, R.W, Li, K., Troell, R., Guilleminault, C. (2001). The road to danger: The comparative risks of driving while sleepy. The Laryngoscope, 111(5): 887-893.
Authored by: Lauren King, PsyD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, CBT-I Provider