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Drowsy Driving
This page provides information about drowsy driving from the Oregon Department of Transportation and other safety advocates.
According to sleep experts, drowsiness is the final step before falling asleep. Sleep represents an abrupt shut down of neural processes that allow us to perceive our environment. At one moment we are awake and can interact with the world, the next we are asleep and completely cut off.
The state of drowsiness itself is a significant impairment while driving and has been shown in several studies to be as dangerous as driving drunk. In driving performance testing, 17 hours of sustained wakefulness was equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.05%.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that each year drowsy driving results in 1,550 deaths and 71,000 injuries, with 55% of these crashes involving drivers 25 years old and younger. In fact, the most at risk group are young men ages 19 years to 26 years.
Drowsiness causes: slow reaction times, impaired judgment and vision, decline in attention, decreased alertness, increased moodiness and aggressive behavior, problems with processing information and short term memory.
Actions you can take to avoid drowsiness while driving include:
  • Get a good night’s sleep before you travel. While this varies from individual to individual, sleep experts recommend between 7-9 hours of sleep per night for adults and 8 1/2-9 1/2 for teens.
  • Drive long trips with a companion so that they can keep you engaged, help look for early warning signs of fatigue and take over the driving duties when needed. Obviously, it is critical that passengers stay awake themselves to support and monitor the driver.
  • Schedule regular stops, every 100 miles or every two hours.
  • Listen to stimulating music or audio books, especially when traveling on long stretches of roadways with little changes in terrain or scenery.
  • Get proper ventilation and regulate temperature settings.
  • Ingest the proper amount of foods and beverages that keep you comfortable but alert; avoid overeating and consuming foods and beverages that make you sluggish or sleepy.
The signs of drowsiness include:
  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or heavy eyelids.
  • Daydreaming and wandering or disconnected thoughts.
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven.
  • Missing exits or traffic signs.
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes.
  • Trouble keeping your head up.
  • Feeling a sense of warmth and relaxation overtaking you.
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating, leaning to one side.
What To Do
If you are getting drowsy while driving:
  • Pull over at the next safe exit or parking area; if you wait, it could be too late.
  • Take a 15 to 20-minute nap. Studies show that this is enough for most people to be completely rested. (More than 20 minutes can make you groggy for at least five minutes after awakening.)
  • Consider consuming the equivalent of two cups of coffee. Caffeine is available in various forms (e.g. soft drinks, energy drinks, coffee, tea, chewing gum, tablets) and amounts. Keep in mind, caffeine takes about 30 minutes to enter the blood stream and will not greatly affect those who regularly consume it.
  • Sit up straight and avoid resting your hands or arms on interior surfaces.
  • Adjust ventilation and temperature settings, being a bit uncomfortable may help.
  • Some may find it most beneficial to do both: take caffeine and then a short nap.
  • Take a brisk walk in the fresh air, in a safe, well-lit location.