Heads Up! Are You Driving Drowsy?

drowsy driverYou’ve been driving for a while, alone, and start to yawn. Your eyes get heavy. Suddenly, your head snaps up and you realize you dozed off for a millisecond.

Think it can’t happen to you? Think again. Within any 30-day period, about one in 25 drivers over the age of 18 reports having fallen asleep while driving, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drowsy Driving StatisticsMore fast facts about drowsy driving:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that drowsy driving leads to 100,000 police-reported crashes each year, resulting in 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and a $12.5 billion cost to the economy.
  • Adults between 18 and 29 are the most likely to drive while drowsy (71% vs. 52% for 30- to 64-year-olds, or 19% for those aged 65 and over), according to the National Sleep Foundation.
  • People with children are more likely to drive while drowsy than people without children (59% vs. 45%).

6 ways to stay alert on the road—and keep safe:

  1. Sleep sufficiently. The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.
  2. Stay engaged. Chat with your passengers or sing along to some tunes. Before driving, pick a playlist (or podcast) that will rev you up. If you’re talking on the phone, use hands-free.
  3. Pair up. When traveling long distances, taking turns behind the wheel allows you to rest without putting your trip on pause.
  4. Get some air. Roll down your windows for a blast of air and consider looking for a safe place to pull over to take a 20-minute nap. If you’re on the highway, the stimulating sounds of the rushing wind can also help keep you alert.
  5. Catch up on your reading. Audiobooks can help keep your attention—try an app or a local library for audio titles before you go.
  6. Take a break. Get out and stretch, use the restroom or get a snack every 100 miles or 2 hours.

Learning defensive driving techniques can help you become a better driver and earn you a discount on car insurance. Visit GEICO’s defensive driver discounts section for more information.


Next: 7 Bad Driving Habits to Avoid

Illustration by Sébastien Thibault

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  1. Cleveland Billingsley says

    I think just having this conversation in just reinforcing the things we should do driving alone or in a hostile driving environment. I really can identify with some of the topics being tired and keep driving from my experience I have pulled off the road and rested awhile.

  2. Laura the tired nurse Scott says

    This does not help medical professionals at all. I may get 7 hours sleep though sometimes it’s just 5-6 hours between two 12 hour shifts that turn into 13 or 14 hour shifts at times. The other day I strait up ran a red light and was SO lucky nothing was coming ! Loud music, open windows and ICEE’s help me some .

  3. annette says

    Thanks geico and everyone for all of the tips. I find that wetting my face with cold water or drinking a smoothie or icee or slush buys me some time. Of course the best thing is to get enough sleep before leaving on your trip.

  4. Robert Kay says

    Don’t dismiss the possibility that the drowsiness may be caused by issues other than lack of sleep. It could be caused by a low glucose/sugar level in your bloodstream.

    Before the discovery of diabetes, about one hour into a relatively monotonous turnpike trip, I would start to become drowsy and actually start to run onto the rub strips at the edge of the roadway – drifting.
    Oddly this usually happened at approximately the same point in the trip – a particularly straight, level, and boring stretch of road – so I assumed it was the monotony of the stretch.

    After stopping at the first available rest stop and having coffee with sugar, or a candy bar or some orange juice, all would be fine for the balance of the trip.
    My next physical exam detected the onset of a prediabetes condition.

    Some good advice – carry some orange juice, cookies or even glucose tablets (available over-the-counter) in the car as a precaution and for relief from low blood sugar.
    And get yourself a check-up, it could save you and others using the highways.

  5. Niharika says

    Fill up your sleep tank before a road trip , take breaks as micro sleep can occur in 5 seconds we all live in a 24/7 society and people get tired all the time in such cases one can use drowsy alert devices like NONAP it alerts you before yo fall asleep at the wheel

  6. Harlan says

    I agree with everything on here February 6th 2015 after driving all night I fell asleep at 9 o’clock in the morning I just looked at the clock and I went out had cruise control set at 70 miles an hour cops today hit the gas hit a dip move 40 feet came down on my nose when I hit the ground I was going hundred and ten miles an hour I was driving 2012 dodge caravan I do really believe that I was driving in the other vehicle I would have not made it but dodge a person is surrounded by airbags I called GEICO the next day and they were right on it the emergency room doctor said I should be dead 3 months later I’m able to walk feed myself but my brain pan isn’t all there yet so yes one get enough sleep before you leave into for family buy a newer Dodge van

  7. Bob Brown says

    Five very helpful anti-drowsy things for me are:

    1. Chewing gum, right from the start of a trip. The motion of your jaws brings more blood to your brain. I like a half stick of Wrigley’s Spearmint.

    2. Playing music on the radio or CD, especially music that encourages you to sing along. This gets stale air out of your lungs and increases blood oxygen going to the brain.

    3. Polarizing sunglasses, which eliminate road glare and help to rest your eyes.

    4. Blocking out the sky by folding down the visor. The sky is a bright source of UV radiation that tires your eyes which encourages you to close your eyes.

    5. Hot coffee, black.

    • Wes Peterson says

      I have found the radio to be too much of a distraction on long rides. As you go up and down hills, and leave one town & enter another, radio stations fade out and you must search for new ones, which may take your attention away from the road (even momentarily, this can be deadly!).

      What I have found to be better for staying alert are books on CD. The story line keeps your mind active, while leaving your eyes and hands glued to the road and the wheel respectively. I find that I am able to pay attention to the road just fine while listening to a story, and being on CD, I don’t have to change stations often. Many cars now have CD Changers, so you can put multiple CDs containing your favorite books in your player before driving off on a long trip. A normal CD will play for about an hour which is still plenty of time between servicing the audio equipment. For those who want to see if this works for them, without going through a lot of expense, check your library to see if they have Books On CD available — that’s how I got ‘hooked’.

    • Uduak E. says

      Thanks Mr Brown, I’ll try the gum chewing trick. Ordinarily, I snack to stay awake but I think a stick or two of chewing gum would cut down on one’ s caloric intake than say …. a 10oz bag of chips.

  8. Eric Garnica says

    Very useful information. thanks Gaico and everyone else who posted on the matter.
    Best regards