Thousands of crashes occur each year because drivers falling asleep at the wheel. Learn the signs so that you know when you are getting drowsy, what puts you at risk for drowsy driving, and what to do to stay alert.

What Are the Signs of Sleepiness?

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety provides some warning sign to help you identify when you are getting too tired to drive. If you begin to experience any of these, it is time to stop driving and get some sleep:

  • Trouble keeping your eyes open and focused
  • Nod and can't keep your head up
  • Daydream or have wandering, disconnected thoughts
  • Yawn a lot or need to rub your eyes
  • Find yourself drifting out of your lane or tailgating
  • Miss road signs or drive past your turn
  • Feel irritable, restless, and impatient
  • Drift off the road and hit the rumble strip on the highway

Are You at Risk?

To determine if you are at an increased risk for a sleep-related traffic accident, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety asks the following questions:

  • Are you aged 30 years or younger?
  • Do you work long hours?
  • Have you had 6 hours of sleep or less in the last 24 hours?
  • Do you often drive between midnight and 6 am?
  • Do you frequently feel drowsy while you are driving?
  • Do you work the night shift?
  • Are you a business traveler who spends a lot of time on the road and suffers from jet lag?
  • Do you work more than one job?
  • Could you have an undiagnosed sleep disorder?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you are at a higher risk of having a car accident related to being tired.

In addition, analysis of sleepy driver crashes shows that having taken sedating medications on a previous night was associated with subsequent crash. If you spend time on the road, don’t use medications that could produce rebound sleepiness the next day.

What Can You Do?

Here are some things you can do to prevent drowsy driving:

  • Get between 7–9 hours of sleep to stay alert during the day.
  • Schedule breaks every 100 miles that you drive—or every 2 hours during long trips.
  • Travel with a friend to share driving and conversation.
  • Avoid alcohol and sleep medications.

Note: If you are relying on coffee to keep you awake, it is time to pull over and call it a night. The best strategy is to take a break from being behind the wheel.

If you suspect you have a sleeping disorder, talk to your doctor about your symptoms so you can get proper treatment.

In the meantime, it is important to remember that driving when sleepy may be as dangerous as drunk driving—for you and for others on the road.


AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

Drowsy Driving


Canada Safety Council

The Canadian Sleep Society (CSS)


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Last reviewed May 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 5/13/2016