Falling Asleep While Driving

Falling Asleep While Driving

Article by:

Share On:


Drowsy driving is when a person operates a motor vehicle while sleepy. It makes the driver more likely to make mistakes. Drowsy driving can considerably increase accident risk, leading to alarming cases of injuries and deaths yearly.

With the widespread sleeping issues and disorders among adult men and women in the US and Canada, greater awareness of drowsy driving can play an essential role in public safety. If our drivers understand the causes and consequences of these issues, the number of car crashes will be decreased significantly.

What Is Drowsy Driving?

Drowsy driving is a profound impairment similar to alcohol-impaired driving and can lead to falling asleep behind the wheel. Driving when you’re sleep-deprived may have catastrophic consequences. Sleepiness can dull your reflexes and impair cognitive functions. 

Drowsy driving can adversely affect cognitive function, judgment, and decision-making skills. If your reaction time slows down and your attention lapses, you’re less likely to react in time.

People Experience Microsleeps Without Realising It

Microsleep is even more alarming than drowsy driving. Microsleeping refers to being tired enough to doze off for a few seconds unknowingly. Some people think this short period doesn’t mean anything. But, when cruising at 65 mph on a highway, even a small fraction of a second can mean life or death. 

Losing consciousness for a few seconds is enough for your car to travel more than 150 yards, which is plenty of distance for a fatal crash upon impact. As a result, sleep-related vehicle accidents account for many rear-end and head-on collisions.

However, when fatal traffic collisions occur, it’s complicated to determine if the cause was due to drowsy driving. 

During a vehicle collision, the process of investigating, analyzing, and forming conclusions is known as “traffic collision reconstruction.” Through this process, Roar Engineering Accident Reconstruction Service reconstructs accidents and completes detailed diagrams of the accident sites.

Drowsy Driving is Common

There’s no exact way to measure drowsy driving. Nevertheless, research demonstrates how disturbingly common it is. Recent studies show that an astonishing 60% of adult drivers drive while tired or sleepy.

The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Driving while drowsy is one of the leading causes of motor vehicle accidents. Over 91,000 crashes were caused by drowsy driving in 2017, causing 50,000 injuries and 800 fatalities, officials reported (NHTSA). 

It is calculated that drowsy driving causes as many as 6,000 fatal crashes yearly. And scientists estimate that around 21% of lethal car crashes occur when the driver feels groggy.

But we believe this data somewhat underestimates the impact of drowsy driving because it’s often impossible to determine precisely whether drowsy driving caused a motor vehicle collision, especially after fatal crashes.

Why Drowsy Driving is Dangerous

Drowsy driving can exponentially increase the risk of traffic collisions. Microsleep occurs when you doze off for just a few seconds. When these brief, fleeting episodes of sleep happen, it’s easy for their car to collide with another vehicle or run off the road. The damage resulting from these collisions usually increases at high speeds.

Driving while drowsy is dangerous, regardless of whether the driver falls asleep. According to recent studies, Sleep deprivation can lead to mental impairment similar to that caused by alcoholism. Surprisingly, sleeping less than 24 hours equals drinking roughly 0.10 percent alcohol.

This impairment can make people distracted and pay less attention to their surroundings. It slows their reaction time, making it more challenging to avoid dangers on the road. Lack of sleep is also related to poor decision-making, leading to reckless driving.

Drowsy Driving Can Lead to Disastrous Motor Vehicle Fires

Vehicles can catch fire after a drowsy driver crashes into various objects, such as a light pole. Gasoline engines, diesel engines, batteries, and hydraulics are prone to fire. And if car accidents happen in harsh environments and operating conditions that may facilitate fire initiation, consequences can be unforgettable. 

And that’s why you should have your car and truck thoroughly checked by technical experts in the field. The Roar Engineering Vehicle Fire Investigators have years of experience investigating a wide array of motorized equipment, from emergency vehicles to industrial equipment. Please also see Motor Vehicle Fire Investigations.

The Main Causes of Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving can happen to anyone who’s behind the wheel, but certain people are at higher risk of auto accidents related to drowsy driving, including:

  • People like long-haul truckers or bus drivers who drive for a living.
  • People who work long hours, night shifts, or irregular shifts.
  • People with severe sleep problems, including insomnia.
  • Young people, especially teenagers with less driving experience.

That said, multiple factors can result in drowsy driving.

  • Sleep deprivation: When you lack quality sleep, it can lead to excessive sleepiness during the day, which induces various dangerous driving behaviours such as microsleeps. Adults should typically sleep at least seven to nine hours every night. However, many folks cannot get their recommended sleep hours for many reasons.
  • Sleep disorders: Did you know that numerous sleep disorders cause a person’s sleep to be interrupted, restricted, and less restorative? Obstructive sleep apnea is an example. This condition happens when the muscles in the back of your throat relax too much to allow normal breathing, leading to reduced or absent breathing during sleep. Sadly, many of these disorders remain undiagnosed. When left untreated, it can cause daytime drowsiness.
  • Drinking alcohol: Alcohol consumption can also induce sleepiness while adversely impacting decision-making and reaction time, increasing the risks of motor vehicle collisions.
  • Medications: Taking some medications is another leading cause of sleepiness. Prescription drugs, including sleep aids, dietary supplements, and over-the-counter medications (OTC) taken at night, may also make you groggy the following day. Sometimes, drowsiness is a side effect of some medications or drugs for many conditions and ailments.
  • Time of day: Car crashes from drowsy driving usually occur from midnight to six a.m. or during the mid-afternoon. These are the times when sleepiness reaches its peak.

How to Prevent Driving While Drowsy

There are several steps you can take to avoid drowsy driving dangers.

Before Driving

  • Plan to limit the number of driving hours. Break your driving trip into smaller and more manageable segments. Avoid long hours of driving as much as you can.
  • Don’t drive between midnight and six am and in the mid-afternoon. Depending on your body’s internal clock, these are the times of the day you will most likely feel drowsiest. Therefore, try not to drive during these hours and be fully aware of your body’s needs.
  • Set a time budget for rest. Ensure that you include several stops along the way to catch up on rest and recharge.
  • Improve the quality of your night’s sleep. Take the time to get a complete rest the night before your driving and ideally for multiple nights before the awaited trip.
  • Don’t use alcohol or other sedatives. These substances inhibit your sleep and leave you exhausted the next day.
  • Take a travel buddy with you: Drowsy driving often occurs when you travel alone. Bring someone who can share your driving duties and help you stay alert. Having a travel buddy is a great way to avoid drowsy driving.

While Driving

  • Be wary of warning signs. When you exhibit drowsy driving symptoms or feel sleepy, find a safe spot to stop and get some quality rest. Don’t attempt to power through when you’re tired. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Use caffeine. You can feel more alert after taking caffeine for a few hours. But remember that it’s not a cure-all. You will get sleepier when it wears off, and having more may have diminishing effects.
  • Be careful about the so-called “tricks” to keep you awake. Some people try air conditioning, radio, or fiddling with their windows. However, these things may cause you to get more distracted. Instead, we strongly recommend you find a place to stop. Give your body the rest it needs before proceeding.

When Should You Stop Driving To Rest?

If you notice any of the following signs of drowsy driving, you need to look for the next available opportunity to have a break (take a walk or rest).

  • Feelings of dozing off
  • Frequent yawning
  • Tired and droopy eyes, with an increase in blinking
  • Hitting rumble strips on the road or drifting into other lanes
  • Missing a road sign or exit
  • Inability to remember the last few miles
  • Difficulty maintaining proper speed
  • Following other cars too closely.

Those signs tell you that you’re drowsy and may be at risk of an accident if you continue driving. You should pull over or exit the road and rest until you are not feeling sleepy.

Drowsy Driving Laws In Canada

So we’ve learned that there are severe consequences to driving while tired. But if you need another incentive, driving while sleepy is illegal in Canada and, if found guilty of an accident, will result in serious penalties.

You should note that there are currently no specific laws about driving while tired. But the impact of driving while tired can make you commit crimes on the road.

Driving while tired is not illegal, despite the well-documented dangers, but it has grave consequences. The government has heavily invested in awareness campaigns and legislative acts to educate drivers about the dangers of fatigued driving.

Bottom Line

Drowsy driving can happen to anyone, such as yourself. To avoid such drowsy driving, practice the short and long-term measures we’ve mentioned. With planning and foresight, you can keep drowsiness at bay when operating your vehicle. 

If you get drowsy while driving, it is best to pull over, get out of your car, and walk around. If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us and speak with our expert team. They will gladly help you out.

FAQs About Drowsy Driving

How Can I Avoid Falling Asleep When Driving?

Here’s what you can do to fight off sleepiness and stay alert while driving

  • Drive with a buddy
  • Get a nap in beforehand
  • Put on some tunes
  • Have some caffeine

Why Do I Get Sleepy When I Drive?

There are many reasons drivers get sleepy when driving for more than a specific time interval. Examples include car vibrations, monotonous roads, or dehydration. While drowsy driving can be hard to avoid, especially during long-haul trips, sleeping while driving is dangerous.

Drowsy driving is the dangerous blend of sleepiness or fatigue while driving. It usually occurs when drivers do not get enough and still drive. Other causes include drinking alcohol, untreated sleep disorders, medications, or changes in a work shift.

Why Does Driving Make You Tired?

Experiencing tiredness from driving for too long is normal! Driving can tire you since it requires a lot of brainpower to multitask. Also, tiredness can result from underlying causes, such as sleep deprivation, dehydration, or boredom. 

Recent studies show that something in driving can make even the most alert people feel tired. It’s all to do with the car’s vibrations as it moves, which can bring on sleepiness in just 15 minutes. When you’re drowsy, it doesn’t take much to start nodding off, and the gentle vibrations made by your car seats as you drive can lull your brain and body.

What Causes A Person to Fall Asleep While Driving?

Drowsiness and the necessity of sleep while driving can be caused by the following:

  • Sleep loss. Many Canadians don’t get the well-needed 8 hours of sleep every night. Therefore, they get deprived of much-needed sleep. Personal demands and lifestyle choices such as balancing work, family, or other responsibilities can restrict or reduce sleep quality.
  • Unrecognized and untreated sleep issues and disorders, including sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy, can lead to excessive sleepiness during the day. These disorders can lead to sleep fragmentation or disruption, preventing quality sleep and accumulating sleep debt.
  • Sleep restrictions related to work. Shift working, working long, extended hours or shuffling between jobs, are more likely to cause sleepiness and drowsiness while driving.
  • Alcohol consumption and certain medications. These can cause sedating effects and sleepiness.

Is Driving Mentally Exhausting?

Driving can be mentally and physically tiring, especially at night. This exhaustion can often be due to a combination of factors, including lack of sleep, driver fatigue, or even certain medications. 

Recent studies have shown that the low-frequency vibrations of cars can make drivers tired and drowsy– if you’ve ever soothed a baby with the hum of the tires on the road to sleep in a car, you can relate!

What Is Microsleep While Driving?

Microsleep is an uncontrollable, fleeting, brief episode of sleep which can last anywhere from a few fractions of a second up to ten seconds. These microsleep episodes occur most frequently when a sleepy person tries to combat sleep and remain awake. Microsleeps may occur while driving and increase the risk of a severe car accident.

What Are the Potential Signs of Experiencing Microsleep?

  • Inattentiveness
  • Brief memory lapses
  • Missing an exit while driving
  • Hitting the highway’s rumble strip
  • Head bobbing
  • Temporary loss of muscle control
  • Falling or slumping over
  • Dropping something held