November 26, 2019

You may not actually realize you’re getting sleepy behind the wheel. Pay attention to these drowsy driving warning signs.

Everyone experiences fatigue at some point, whether because of working overtime at work, tending to a newborn or finding yourself wide awake at night with an inability to fall asleep. These things can lead us to become more accident-prone, particularly when it comes to driving.

As a mother of an energetic 4-year-old son, I am often tired. I’m not the only mother trying to balance work-life, chauffeuring my son to his appointments, swim lessons, trips to the grocery store and many other tasks. With all of that, many times sleep is the last thing on my list. But sometimes fatigue leads to becoming drowsy while driving, a dangerous state.


Warning signs that you’re getting sleepy behind the wheel include:

  • Drifting from your lane.
  • Yawning or blinking frequently.
  • An inability to remember the last few miles you drove.
  • Hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road.

If you’re experiencing any of these while driving, pull off the road to rest or switch drivers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that in 2017, there were 91,000 police-reported crashes involving drowsy drivers nationwide. Those crashes injured about 50,000 people and killed nearly 800. Drowsy driving crashes occur most frequently between midnight and 6 a.m.

Adults aren’t the only people experiencing drowsy driving. I work with teens across Middle Tennessee in our Teen Driver Safety Program, offered through Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The teens I work with often tell me that sleep falls to the bottom of their priority list after school, work, extracurriculars and social activities. Mixing teen driving inexperience with fatigue can lead to the behaviors mentioned above, or worse: actually falling asleep while driving.


Smart tips for staying alert and preventing drowsy driving:

  • Remember to get adequate sleep on a regular basis. Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before driving.
  • Before a long road trip, get a good night’s rest and plan a driving schedule with the other drivers in the vehicle.
  • Sip a caffeinated coffee to help you stay alert.
  • Avoid taking medications that can make you sleepy.

The National Sleep Foundation says drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Now that you’re aware of the dangers of drowsy driving, remember the safety tips above to remain safe on the road.

Eppiphanie Richardson is an Associate Program Manager for the Pediatric Trauma-Injury Prevention Program at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. When she is not working she enjoys dancing, spending time with friends and family, exploring Nashville and getting lost in a good book.

The Injury Prevention Program at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt’s Be In The Zone Program educates teens about the dangers of distracted driving. The Be In The Zone (BITZ) Program is sponsored by Ford Motor Company Fund and The Allstate Foundation. Learn more about our teen driver safety program.