Five Signs You’re too Tired to Drive

Know when its time to stop driving and time to start counting sheep.

Bedding with white sheets and pillows

We’ve all been there: pushing through those last few miles on a long trip, or driving home after a late shift yawning all the way. We imagine our bed waiting; we think, just a few more miles, there’s no reason to stop, I’ll be there soon. But driving while tired is incredibly dangerous, not just to you, but to everyone on the road. UCLA’s Sleep Disorder Center reports that drowsiness is responsible for at least 100,000 auto accidents each year, resulting in over 40,000 injuries. The actual numbers are almost certainly much higher, though, since drowsiness is self-reported. In one survey, 55 percent of drivers admitted they’d driven while drowsy in the past year. Even more frightening: AAA reports that drowsy driving plays a part in one out of every six fatal car accidents.


Why Drowsy Driving is so Risky:

UCLA’s sleep center explained that while we can put off eating when hungry or drinking when thirsty, our body’s drive to sleep is so strong that eventually it’ll force us to sleep, even if the conditions are less than ideal (like, say, we are behind the wheel). While you may be able to will yourself to not eat that cheesecake, you cannot will yourself to stay awake indefinitely. Even if you never fall asleep while driving, if you’re tired, your reaction times will be slower, as will your ability to assess and respond to dangerous situations. You may get away with driving sleepy once in a while, but you’re tempting fate.

Do not underestimate our body's ability to force us to sleep.

Drivers who are most at risk:

From UCLA’s sleep center:

  • Shift workers
  • Business travelers
  • Drivers who regularly don’t get enough sleep
  • Drivers who’ve been awake for a long time
  • Young male drivers
  • Drivers who take medications that cause drowsiness
  • Drivers with untreated sleep disorders
  • Drivers who have been drinking alcohol

Five signs you’re too tired to drive:

Safe driving advocates urge drivers to treat feeling drowsy while driving as a serious emergency and to pull over immediately. Five important signs you need to take action:

  1. Frequent yawning and rubbing your eyes
  2. Can’t remember the last few miles driven
  3. Having trouble holding your head up, or nodding off
  4. Driving past your turn or exit or missing traffic signs
  5. Drifting onto the rumble strips or in and out of your lane


What to do if you’re too tired

If you realize you’re definitely too tired to keep driving as you are, there are steps you can take to protect your safety and that of other drivers on the road:

  • Pull over at a rest stop and get out to walk around
  • Take a short nap someplace safe
  • Ask a traveling companion to drive for a while
  • Have coffee or other caffeinated products and don’t get back on the road for at least 30 minutes (when the anti-fatigue effects will kick in)

And if you’re exhibiting the sleepy symptoms above and breaks and caffeine don’t help, you should consider staying somewhere overnight. We know unscheduled stops and hotel rooms can be expensive hassles, but it’s better than becoming a statistic. Stay safe, and well rested.