If you’ve ever gotten behind the wheel while feeling drowsy, you’re not alone. Sixty percent of adults in the U.S. have done it and around one-third of people have actually fallen asleep at the wheel. Though driving while exhausted may seem relatively harmless, it has serious consequences. You could get into a car accident and possibly harm yourself or someone else.
Drowsy driving is dangerous because sleep deprivation can have similar effects on your body as drinking alcohol. Being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive like you have a blood alcohol level of .05 (for reference, .08 is considered drunk). If you’ve been awake for a full 24 hours and drive—say, after a night where you just couldn’t fall asleep—it’s like you have a blood alcohol level of .10.
Both drowsy driving and drunk driving make it hard to pay attention to the road, and negatively impact how well you can make fast decisions. But as similar as they are, drowsy driving and drunk driving don’t always look the same on the road. A drunk driver can often drive slowly and try to react, but a drowsy driver can nod off while still going fast. So, drowsy drivers don’t always brake or swerve if something happens in front of them.
Whenever you’re a driver or a passenger, you can help keep yourself and others safe by looking out for red flags. Signs of drowsy driving are trouble focusing, heavy eyelids, an inability to remember the last stretch of road that you just drove, yawning constantly, bobbing your head, and drifting from your lane. If this starts to happen while you’re driving, pull over if you can do so safely and take a 20-minute nap or buy a cup of caffeinated coffee to help keep you alert. If you have someone else in the car, switch drivers. Also, driving during your most alert period of the day (like in the morning, instead of late at night) is a good idea. Taking these simple precautions will help lower your risk and stress level during a road trip.