Too Tired to Drive?

I had a great day yesterday – my son graduated from college!  It was such a whirlwind of a day.  I was up by 5:45 AM, showered, dressed, dried my hair, hit the ATM and the bagel store (we can’t travel without food!), woke up my younger son and got him together and in the car.  Then I picked up a close friend and drove into the city to get my daughter, and drove 3 hours to my son’s university, picked him up (I was beaming of course), drove to the arena and waited an hour.  Then there was the three hour ceremony, and dinner followed by a drive back to my son’s apartment to pick up a few things to bring home.  Finally, at nearly 8 PM I began the long drive home.  Was I tired?  You bet.  Was I too tired to drive? (See my answer below.)

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services “Drowsy driving was implicated in about 16 percent of fatal crashes, and about 13 percent of crashes resulting in hospitalization.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, signs of drowsiness while driving may include:

  • Turning up the radio or rolling down the window
  • Impaired reaction time and judgment
  • Decreased performance, vigilance and motivation
  • Trouble focusing, keeping your eyes open or your head up
  • Daydreaming and wandering thoughts
  • Yawning or rubbing your eyes repeatedly
  • Drifting from your lane, tailgating and missing signs or exits
  • Feeling restless, irritable or aggressive

To quote prominent sleep physician, Dr. William Dement: “Drowsiness is the last step before falling asleep, not the first”. Drowsiness means you are seconds away from falling asleep.”  The New York State website has a quiz to see if you are too tired to drive as well as other resources.

The New York State Health Department has produced a pamphlet “Wake Up! To the Risks of Drowsy Driving.”

Visit for “Do’s and Don’ts” regarding driving while drowsy.

Some do’s

  • Get a good night’s sleep before a long drive.
  • Get off the road if you notice any of the warning signs of fatigue.
  • Take a nap – find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap.
  • Consume caffeine – the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours, but DO NOT rely on it for long periods.
  • Try consuming caffeine before taking a short nap to get the benefits of both.
  • Drive with a friend. A passenger who remains awake can help watch for signs of fatigue in the driver and can take a turn driving, if necessary.
  • Always wear your seatbelt.

I did take some of the precautions listed above, and we made it home safely.  I was so happy to crawl into bed, but next time when I feel that tired I’ll let someone else drive!

posted by – Susan, Health Reference Services

This entry was posted in Caffeine and driving, Drowsy driving, National Sleep Foundation, New York State Department of Health,, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Bookmark the permalink.

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