What is drowsy driving? Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of drowsy driving and some tips on combating it, let’s first define the term.

Drowsy driving is the operation of a motor vehicle while being cognitively impaired by a lack of sleep. Like other risky driving behaviors, drowsy driving poses a safety risk and may cause significant business losses.

Learn the causes of drowsy driving, its warning signs, and the preventive actions you can take to combat it.

What causes drowsy driving?

Various factors can cause drivers to feel drowsy while driving. Here are a few possible reasons that may lead to driver fatigue and drowsy driving:

  • Sleep deprivation. Lacking enough sleep causes excessive daytime sleepiness. This condition often induces harmful driving behavior, including microsleeps (dozing off for a few seconds).
  • Sleep disorders. Sleep apnea syndrome (breathing pauses in your sleep), narcolepsy, and several other sleeping disorders can interrupt, restrict, and make a person’s sleep less revitalizing. Left undiagnosed and untreated, sleep disorders can induce daytime drowsiness.
  • Medications. Over-the-counter medicines, sleeping aids, prescription drugs, and dietary supplements taken at night may result in prolonged grogginess the next morning. Antihistamines, blood pressure medications, antidepressants, or muscle relaxants are a few examples. Drowsiness can also be a side effect of some medicines.
  • Alcohol consumption. Drinking alcoholic beverages can trigger sleepiness and impair your drivers’ decision-making abilities, resulting in greater risk-taking actions.
  • Overwork. Driver fatigue and drowsy driving can also be triggered by drivers working too much for too long. Hours of Service regulations define how long drivers can stay on duty and drive.

Additionally, in a Private Motor Truck Council session in Canada, doctors confirm exhaustion and marijuana use as the biggest driver challenges affecting safe operations on the road.

Why is drowsy driving dangerous?

The “fogginess” that drowsy drivers experience has a negative impact on the body and the ability to perform basic tasks. The negative effects may include:

  • Lack of alertness. Missing as little as 1.5 hours of sleep can have an impact on how you feel and slow your reaction time.
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness. It can make you very sleepy and tired during the day.
  • Impaired memory. Lack of sleep can affect your ability to think, remember, and process information.
  • Irritability. It can make you feel moody and more likely to have conflicts with others.
  • Diminished quality of life. You may become less likely to participate in normal daily activities or to exercise.
  • Accelerated heart rate. It can cause an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on your heart.
  • Slower thought processes. Sleep deprivation leads to lower alertness and concentration. This hampers your ability to perform tasks that require logical reasoning or complex thought.
  • Impaired judgment. Because you can’t assess situations properly, making decisions and picking the right behavior becomes more difficult.
  • Learning difficulties. Sleep deprivation affects your ability to learn in two ways. First, you can’t focus, making it more difficult to pick up information. Second, it affects memory, which is essential to learning.
  • Slowed Reaction Time. Sleepiness makes your reaction time slower, a special problem when driving or doing work or other tasks that require a quick response. Drowsiness alone can be as dangerous as driving drunk.
  • Greater likelihood for accidents. Drowsy driving accounts for thousands of crashes, injuries and fatalities each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A lack of sleep can cause microsleeps, lasting usually for four to five seconds. Vehicles running at 55 miles per hour can travel 100 yards before drivers wake from their microsleep.

These impaired capabilities can cause crashes and may lead to severe damage, injuries, and even fatalities. Research shows a strong link between road accidents and fatigued drivers. In fact, fatigued drivers are three times more likely to be in vehicle collisions, when compared with well-rested drivers.

What a 2018 study says about drowsy driving

An in-depth study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that drowsy driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving.

AAA said the drowsy driving research using in-vehicle dashcam videos of everyday drivers is the most intensive to be done in the United States. The research revealed that the percentage of accidents that happen due to drowsiness “is eight times higher than federal estimates indicate.”

The federation also said that the difficulty in detecting drowsiness following a crash makes drowsy driving “one of the most underreported traffic safety issues.”

Dr. David Yang, Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said, “Drowsy driving is a bigger traffic safety issue than federal estimates show. Drivers who don’t get enough sleep are putting everyone on the road at risk.”

AAA also said its researchers studied videos of drivers’ faces in the three minutes leading up to a crash.

The researchers then linked the percentage of time a person’s eyes are closed to their level of drowsiness. This test revealed that 9.5 percent of all crashes and 10.8 percent of all accidents resulting in significant property damage involved drowsiness.

According to earlier federal estimates, drowsiness only resulted in one to two percent of crashes, AAA highlighted.

The Department of Transportation (DOT), however, does understand the negative impact of drowsiness and driver fatigue. The ELD mandate was introduced to prevent driver fatigue and enforce Hours of Service rules.

The final ELD rule has been in effect since December 18, 2017, which requires non-exempt commercial drivers to use.

Pennsylvania state police trooper Frank Lewis, a motor vehicle enforcer, said that drowsiness becomes an important subject when it involves large commercial vehicles.

Lewis says, “Once they [commercial drivers] become drowsy, their chances of crashing a commercial vehicle are much greater than a personal car.”

The use of ELDs, however, can minimize drowsiness and driver fatigue.

Prior to the implementation of the ELD mandate, the FMCSA estimated that electronic logging devices would help save 26 lives and prevent 562 injuries every year.

Matt Ivan, a driver for Pitt Ohio, supports the use of an ELD by commercial drivers because the device “does the thinking for you.”

“It will remind you when to take a break, not that you should need that, but it’s almost like having a passenger with you that says, ‘Hey, I’m helping you watch.’”

In short, ELDs help commercial drivers adhere to the HOS rules, which ensures that drivers are well-rested and fresh when they are behind the wheel.

What are the warning signs that you are drowsy?

Identifying if or when you are indeed drowsy and fatigued can be difficult. Here are some of the serious signs that you are drowsy:

  • Repetitive and uncontrollable blinking, yawning, and rubbing of eyes
  • Droopy or tired eyes and heavier-than-usual eyelids
  • Difficulty focusing and keeping the eyes open
  • Having trouble keeping the head upright (nodding off, head tilting, or falling to one side)
  • Missing exits, road signs, and other turns
  • Failing to consistently maintain the proper vehicle speed
  • Inability to remember the past few miles covered
  • Driving onto rumble strips or the roadside
  • Drifting from the designated lanes
  • Following other vehicles too closely
  • Drivers from other lanes honking at you for unpredictable driving
  • Having disconnected and wandering thoughts

If you get drowsy while driving, it is best to take a restful nap to recharge rather than do short-term remedies (caffeine intake, opening the window, turning on the air conditioner, etc.).

If you have a partner driver with you at that moment, you can pull over and switch places temporarily. If you’re alone in the vehicle and become drowsy while driving, you should do the following:

  • Find a quiet spot to park safely and get away from sleep disruptors such as noise and other people
  • Remove the key from the ignition and lock the doors
  • Take a nap on the sleeper berth or other comfortable spots in the vehicle
  • Sleep for 15 to 20 minutes at the least. If not in a rush, sleep until you wake up naturally after being fully refreshed.

What is drowsy driving prevention week?

Every November, a week after the end of Daylight Saving Time, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) holds the Drowsy Driving Prevention Week (DDPW).

NSF is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing people’s health and well-being through sleep education, research, and advocacy. It works to deepen the public’s understanding of sleep health and sleep science.

The goal in conducting the DDPW is to minimize the number of road accidents caused by drowsy driving. This yearly campaign also intends to educate drivers about the perils of driving while sleep-deprived and ways to prevent it.

How fleet managers can help prevent drowsy driving

Encourage your drivers to follow the tips we shared here on what they should do when they notice signs of drowsy driving. In addition, use technologies such as ELDs (to enforce Hours of Service regulations) and fleet safety solutions (to monitor risky driving behavior).

You should also mount dashcams in your commercial vehicles. Dashcams can document instances and warning signs of drowsy driving and give insight into your drivers’ conditions in case of accidents.

With ELDs and other software data, HOS records, and dashcam footage, you can monitor if drowsy driving has become habitual and find ways to address it. Track it weekly, monthly, and annually, to improve overall fleet safety.

Make sure drivers understand that certain medical conditions, disabilities, and medications may cause drowsiness. Drivers should understand your paid sick leave and leave of absence policies, as well as your drug testing policies.

Commercial drivers should also meet several medical requirements. These requirements help verify that drivers are fit enough to operate.

Finally, raise awareness about drowsy driving in your fleet through team discussions, participating in the DDPW, and incorporating it in your driver coaching programs.

Remember, driver fatigue impacts their retention and careers, so make every effort to help ensure the drivers in your fleet are well-rested for their shifts.

How Motive keeps drivers safe

Motive offers comprehensive fleet management solutions for drowsy driving prevention and enhanced road and driver safety.

At the center of Motive’s fleet safety solution is the easy-to-install, AI-powered dashcam.

The AI dashcam recognizes risky driving behavior, such as driver drowsiness, sudden lane shifts, and close following. Upon detecting a critical safety event, it triggers an alert for safety managers. This data is recorded and reflected on the DRIVE risk score, which you can use to monitor driver performance over a period of time.

The DRIVE risk score can be monitored via the Motive Safety Hub. Plus, you get real-time visibility from the AI dashcam’s footage.

The Motive ELD solution makes it easier for fleet managers to enforce Hours of Service regulations. HOS enforcement ensures that drivers do not overwork themselves and stay fresh, compliant with regulations, and safe.

Prevent drowsy driving with Motive

Drowsy driving is more prevalent and perilous than most trucking companies realize. It can be difficult to detect and may result in catastrophic accidents.

Motive offers robust solutions to help fleets minimize incidents of drowsy driving.

Request a free demo today to explore how Motive is increasing safety and simplifying fleet management for commercial fleets of all types and sizes.