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Drowsy Driving: How Lack of Sleep Increases Your Accident Risk

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Life is busy. Hectic, even. As we head into the holiday season, it’s probably not abnormal to have your days planned well in advance. We’re spending more time running from store to store, picking up gifts or planning meals, pushing to hit deadlines at work so we can take some much-needed vacation time, driving home to see family from college, or jumping from one party to the next as we celebrate a successful year. Yeah, sleep is usually the last thing on our agenda, right?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 30 percent of people in the United States are getting less than the recommended seven hours of sleep. And yet, there are 250 million cars and trucks traveling every day throughout the U.S.

Driving while drowsy is one of the most under-reported safety issues on our roads today and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety decided to examine this epidemic affecting our street.

Studies show that this casual oversight can prove to be incredibly dangerous when it comes to transportation. Sleep habits, or lack of sleep, are drastically impacting our ability to stay safe on the roads with what everyone calls “drowsy driving”. Read on to find out more, including some tips on what to do if you start to feel drowsy while driving.

The Study

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concluded that missing even one or two hours of sleep per night can significantly increase your chances of causing an accident. The study also found that 35% of all drivers are sleep deprived and one in five deadly accidents involve a driver that is drowsy. Generally speaking, you are four times more likely to get into an accident if you got less than seven hours of sleep the night before.

Being four times more likely is nothing to ignore, folks. This is a serious risk and something we need to be keenly aware of as we go about our busy lives. It’s important to rest and take preventative measures to ensure we’re well enough to be on the road.

The study also found that a driver with less than five hours of sleep drove similar to a drunk driver. Despite the high risk of driving while sleepy, one in three people in the study admitted that they had driven their car despite being so tired that they had trouble keeping their eyes open. That’s a pretty terrifying statistic.

Drowsy Driving Statistics

  • Missing one or two hours of sleep per night can significantly increase the odds of causing an accident.
  • Thirty-five percent of all drivers on the road are experiencing sleep deprivation.
  • One in five deadly accidents involves a driver that is drowsy.
  • You are four times more likely to get into an accident if you get less than seven hours of sleep.
  • Driving with less than five hours of sleep is similar to driving drunk. Sleep deprivation can have the same impact as drinking an entire six-pack of beer.
  • One in three people in the AAA study admitted driving drowsy and experiencing difficulty keeping their eyes open.

Things To Remember

If you can, avoid traveling late at night. This is not always easy, especially if you’re a shift worker or trying to make a long trip in a decent amount of time. But, you have options. Here are some of our favorite tips for waking up, or to avoiding drowsy driving late:

Buddy System

Try to travel with a co-worker or find a carpool or road trip buddy. This method is ideal, but not always practical. However, if you have another person in your car, you can chat and keep each other alert during your ride. You can even switch off and share driving responsibilities if you have a considerable commute.


Consider resting before you get on the road. Find a safe place to close your eyes for 15-20 minutes, but not more than that. Sleeping for more than 20 minutes can make you groggy, so it doesn’t help much in the grand scheme of things. Limit your nap to about 15 minutes. It truly helps. If you happen to sleep longer than 15 minutes, when you wake up… give yourself some time to wake up fully before you hit the road.


Before you begin your commute, grab a coffee. It usually takes about 30 minutes to kick in, but caffeine can really help you to feel more alert. If you don’t like coffee, there are other options and equivalents – tea, gum, and soda. For an added benefit, and since it does take about 30 minutes for your to feel the impact, consume caffeine before you rest your eyes for that 15 minute cat nap. Then, you get the benefit of both.

Call a Cab

If you’re truly exhausted, can’t imagine driving, and you’re somewhat close to home (like if you pulled an all-nighter at work), call a cab. Or an Uber. Or a Lyft. Services like this were created for a reason – if it’s an occasion where you truly feel like nothing is going to wake you up, just leave your car somewhere safe and hitch a ride home with a professional driver.

Avoid Alcohol & Heavy Meals

Of course, alcohol use should always be moderated heavily if there’s a chance you need to get behind the wheel. Even one drink can impair your hand-eye coordination, reaction time, awareness and decision making. In fact, if you’re sleep deprived, one beer can have the same impact as drinking a full six-pack. Your accident risk increases dramatically. So, if you have to get behind the wheel, just avoid the drinks altogether… and be careful to not indulge in a really heavy meal if you’re already sleep deprived. A full stomach can also increase your risk of nodding off.

The Solution: How To Avoid Drowsy Driving

If you are getting drowsy when driving or you want to prevent being tired when driving, remember these tips.

  • If you have a choice, avoid traveling late at night.
  • Try to travel with a buddy. Another person in your car will help keep you alert and share driving responsibilities.
  • Rest before you get on the road. A 15-20 minute power nap can rejuvenate you for your drive. However, sleeping longer than 20 minutes has been proven to make you sleepier.
  • Drink caffeine 30 minutes before driving. If you don’t like coffee, you can try tea, gum, and soda.
  • Call a cab, Uber or Left. If you feel like you are too tired, avoid a drowsy driving auto accident by leaving the driving to the professionals.
  • Avoid alcohol and heavy meals. You should never drink and drive. A heavy dinner and a full stomach can increase your chances of nodding off.

Are You Tired?

However, if you are tired, sometimes your symptoms are not 100 percent clear. Many drivers that fall asleep at the wheel do not remember falling asleep. This is why slowing down, resting, planning and, when necessary, finding an alternative means of transportation are the best ways to ensure you get home safely. It is not worth risking the safety of yourself and those around you.

Symptoms aren’t 100% reliable, as many drivers that fall asleep at the wheel do not recall falling asleep. So, the best thing to do is to be preventative… slow down, rest, plan ahead, and if you’re still not able to get the sleep your body needs, find an alternative mode of transportation to get home safely. As we all know, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Frequently Asked Questions

What to do if you see a reckless driver?

If you see another driver swerving or falling asleep at the wheel that you believe is life-threatening contact the police. Have your passenger call the police and provide them with a description of the car and record the license plate if you can. If you do not have a passenger in the car, pull over so you can make the call yourself. If someone’s life is in danger call 911 otherwise call your local force’s non-emergency number.

What to do if I was involved in a drowsy driving car accident?

If you were the victim of a drowsy driver, you might have a personal injury claim. Use these steps following your automobile accident.

Can a personal injury lawyer help me?

A personal injury lawyer can help you navigate your drowsy driving case. The experts at Elsner Law Firm are here to answer any questions you may have.

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