Drowsy driving is one of the predominant causes of deadly car accidents in California. Stressed, overworked and overtired drivers may be unable to safely control their vehicles. The National Sleep Foundation says drowsy driving is equivalent to drunk driving in terms of driver impairment. Driving after 18 hours awake is the same as driving with a 0.05% blood alcohol content (BAC) level. After 24 hours, a drowsy driver is equal to someone with a 0.10% BAC. Learning how to recognize the signs of drowsy driving – including lesser-known signs – could allow you to pull over and sleep before causing an accident.
Blinking more than usual is a telltale sign of being too drowsy to drive. While most drivers recognize long or slow blinks as a sign of tired driving, not all may recognize frequent blinking as a red flag. Blinking too often could be your body’s way of trying to stay awake while tired. Your eyelids are working harder than usual to keep your eyes moist and open. Most adults blink 10 to 15 times per minute. Blinking more than this could be a sign of drowsy driving.
Heavy eyelids could also be a sign of tired driving. If it gets more difficult to blink or you have to make a conscious effort to open and close your eyes, it is time to pull over and rest. If you notice you are rubbing your eyes or having trouble focusing your vision, it is also a common sign of tired driving. Pay attention to changes in how you blink. If you notice any warning signs, pull over and take a nap before you get into an accident.
A tired driver is more likely to have wandering thoughts than a well-rested one. Drowsiness can interfere with the ability to concentrate and focus on the road, as well as react and make decisions while driving. Lack of focus on the road or the driving task could lead to daydreaming, wandering thoughts, disconnected thoughts or trouble remembering the last few miles you have driven. You may miss your exit, feel disoriented or be unsure of how long you have been on the road.
If your thoughts are so in-depth that they distract you from what you are doing, it could be a sign of drowsy driving. Getting overly absorbed in your thoughts could be your brain’s way of resting subconsciously rather than concentrating on the task of driving. If you are thinking or daydreaming enough to lose track of the last few miles or to miss an exit, you could be too drowsy to safely drive.
Many different broken roadway rules could point to a tired driver. Speeding, stopping and starting, rolling through a stop sign, running a red light, drifting from a lane or making an unsafe lane change could all be signs of drowsy driving. A lesser-known warning sign, however, is tailgating. Many tired drivers do not realize how close they are getting to other cars. They may subconsciously close the gap between their vehicles and those in front of them. Following too closely could be a drowsy driver’s way of staying within the lines or maintaining a normal speed.
With slower reflexes and reaction times, a drowsy driver may be unable to hit the brakes in time to avoid a rear-end collision if tailgating another driver. If you notice you are driving unusually close to the vehicles in front of you, it may be time to pull over and get some sleep. Your tired brain may be having trouble with spatial awareness or processing things such as roadway rules. Tailgating is a sign that you can no longer follow traffic laws or keep a safe distance from drivers around you.
Sleep has no substitution. If you notice any signs of drowsy driving, pull over somewhere safe and rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Drive with a partner on long trips to talk to you, keep you awake and take driving shifts.