We all know about the dangers that drinking and driving presents on our highways, but many drivers are unaware of the severity and proliferation of another deadly combination—sleep deprivation and driving, or “drowsy driving”.

According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), roughly 100,000 police-reported auto crashes are caused by drowsy driving every year, resulting in more than 1,500 deaths and injuring an average of 40,000 people. And due to limitations in the statistical parameters, this estimate may be conservative.


A 2005 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), found that 60% of adult drivers admitted to driving while feeling drowsy. Over one-third of them said they’d even fallen asleep while behind the wheel. That’s a lot of compromised drivers on the road.

According to UCLA’s Sleep Disorder Center people most at risk of falling asleep are young males (due to staying up late, consuming alcohol and working long hours), shift workers and business travelers, drivers who regularly don’t get sleep, drivers who have been awake for a long time, drivers who have untreated sleep disorders, and drivers who have taken mediations that cause drowsiness or have consumed alcohol.

Most crashes caused by drowsy driving occur from midnight to daybreak and in the mid-afternoon from 1pm to 3pm (the afternoon slump), both times when the body’s natural time clock is prone to sleep. Crashes are also more likely to occur to single drivers since there is no one else in the car to see that they are getting tired or to take turns driving with.


Recognizing that you are becoming drowsy while driving can be difficult because it can sneak up on you. Because it can come on slowly, your cognitive abilities may already be compromised making you less aware of what is going on and less able to identify it.

Signs can include:

Yawning frequently.
Inability to keep your eyes open.
Wandering thoughts/Not being able to focus on the road.
Nodding off and trouble keeping your head up.
Veering in and out of lanes or onto the shoulder of the road.
Missing turns, signs, or not remembering the last miles you drove.
Grouchiness, impatience.


NSF offers the following advice for staying awake while behind the wheel:

Get a good night’s sleep before you hit the road. You’ll want to be alert for the drive, so be sure to get adequate sleep (seven to nine hours) the night before you go.

Don’t be too rushed to arrive at your destination. Many drivers try to maximize the holiday weekends by driving at night or without stopping for breaks. It’s better to allow the time to drive alert and arrive alive.
Use the buddy system. Just as you should not swim alone, avoid driving alone for long distances. A buddy who remains awake for the journey can take a turn behind the wheel and help identify the warning signs of fatigue.

Take a break every 100 miles or 2 hours. Do something to refresh yourself like getting a snack, switching drivers, or going for a run.

Take a nap. Find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap, if you think you might fall asleep. Be cautious about excessive drowsiness after waking up.

Avoid alcohol and medications that cause drowsiness as a side-effect.
Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep.
Consume caffeine. The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.
If you have been injured after a car accident, it is very important to see a doctor immediately to document your injuries in a medical record. Then, contact Meshbesher & Spence for a consultation with our personal injury attorneys. Our attorneys are available to visit you in the hospital or in your home as well as in our offices, and will help you determine if you will be able to recover damages for your injuries. If the accident was caused by a driver was asleep behind the wheel, you may be able to file a liability claim.