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. Inae says

    I am a very alert driver. My question is, is there any hint to spot drowsy driver(s), while I drive? Thanks!

  2. Harry says

    I found out I have sleep apnea, which does result in drowsing at the wheel. I now use a breathing machine which helps. I also use the flavored waters instead of coffee or soda to stay hydrated. The other suggestions also work very well. I like to take a nap after four hours on the road to avoid getting sleepy. Audio books work well, but ensure they are stimulating (mysteries, westerns, or other action packed stories. I use Satellite and try to find the talk show or old comedy shows (’30’s or ’40’s are great).

  3. CTee says

    I always stop somewhere, and go to the bathroom. Take a paper towel and soak it in very cold water, and place it on your face. Keep it in the car to place it on your forehead too. Works great! The best thing to do is stop and take a nap.

  4. Joseph Pizzuto says

    While vacation season is upon us, and children can be a distraction, I see more and more families traveling at night. I find this to be unsafe! Its extremely difficult to stay alert during these hours.

  5. joe joyner says

    didnt’ know about the %of driving sleepy. if i am sleepy i will stop n take a nap.parent with kids have a hard time .working days.up with kids at night.then up early the nexts mornimg.

  6. p.v.cherian says

    It happen to me many times. I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WHEN IT COMES TO ME WHILE I AM DRIVING ON THE ROAD.

  7. John F. says

    My wife and I love road trips………….the BEST solution we have found to stay alert is to eat Sunflower Seeds that are not too Salty & require removal of the shell. I keep a empty cup on the door cup holder and pop several seeds in my mouth, then crack them, remove the seed with my tongue! My wife calls it my ‘Crack’!!! Good luck! jpf

    • Jim W says

      Yea sunflower seeds do the trick for me. I often travel 2 hours away from home for work through the week. Keep a bag with me in every car. My dad use to eat peanuts when he got sleepy, but I found they get devoured to fast for me. He only had one accident his whole life and that was when a drunk stepped out in front of him on a busy 4 lane.

  8. Michael Epperson says

    It’s difficult for people like myself to sleep 7 hours a night. One thing I have noticed about when I drive drowsy is that my mouth is closed and I’m breathing through my nose. This breathing pattern simulates sleeping for me, since I do breathe through my nose when I sleep. At the end of a long day, or even at the end of vigorous activity, the task of driving can be extremely daunting. I find that what gives me restored alertness is eating. Whether it’s chips or nuts or a hamburger, fries, and a drink, my drive to the store or restaurant to purchase those items is difficult with drowsiness. The drive after the purchase is alert and wide awake. I believe that the sedentary nature of driving as a common commuter is more at fault than lack of rest. I would be willing to participate in a study to support my findings.

  9. Reza says

    Listening to talk showes, audio books, or even cracking sun flower seeds will help me not get drowsy behind the wheel.

    • Jeanne Stewart says

      What I find helpful on extended driving trips is avoiding fatty foods
      which encourage sleepiness. Drink adequate amounts of water
      and for me snacking on celery stalks and strips of red, yellow or orange
      peppers. It also is helpful to get out at the routine rest stops and
      exercise and stretch a bit. I’m inclined to be a sleepyhead so if I
      listen to a great audio tape book or great (not energy draining)
      music my time passes more energetically alert, yet calmly.

      Stay safe out there. Thanks for travelling with us, GEICO.

      Jeanne

      • Angelica says

        Yeah water helps! And I notice that even the effectiveness of caffeine is limited if I drink it on an empty stomach. Kind of like taking meds on an empty stomach