Asleep at the Wheel: How to Avoid Drowsy Driving

Nov 4, 2011, 5:52 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Travel with an awake passenger during long trips. That’s among the critical tips offered by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety in a survey released today on drowsy driving. The survey included over 3,000 participants and found that about a third of the responders admitted that in the past month they had driven “when they were so tired they had difficulty keeping their eyes open.”

The survey builds on research released by the Foundation last year that found that one of every six deadly crashes and one in eight crashes that involved a serious injury involved a drowsy driver. The study researchers say those numbers are well above earlier estimates.

"What's so alarming is that over half of these drivers reported having fallen asleep while driving on high?speed roads," says AAA's Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy and Research Jake Nelson. "These data underscore the importance of educating drivers about the dangers of drowsy driving."

AAA offers tips to help prevent a “fall?asleep” crash:

Get at least seven hours of sleep the night before a long trip

  • Stop driving if you become sleepy. Fatigue impacts reaction time, judgment and vision, causing people who are very sleepy to behave in similar ways to those who are drunk
  • Travel at times when you are normally awake, and stay overnight rather than driving straight through
  • Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles
  • Drink a caffeinated beverage. And since it takes about 30 minutes for caffeine to enter the bloodstream, find a safe place to take a 20?30 minute nap while you're waiting for the caffeine to take effect

The Foundation has additional information on drowsy driving in an online brochure: How to Avoid Drowsy Driving.

But being alert and awake isn’t enough to guarantee safe driving—drivers also have to concentrate on the drive, not on cell phones, make up or their coffee. According to data cited on, a website created by the Department of Transportation, in 2009, 5,474 people were killed, and close to 500,000 were injured in car crashes that were reported to have involved distracted driving.

The Public Health Law Research Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based at Temple University, held a webinar last month on distracted driving laws throughout the U.S. According to PHLR, states are adding laws that limit driving and use of a mobile communications device at an “accelerating pace.”

Weigh In: What messages are most likely to improve driver safety?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.