Many people, who otherwise consider themselves safe drivers, underestimate the dangers of getting behind the wheel while sleepy. However, drowsiness strongly impairs driving ability and leads to a high rate of accidents.

Severe fatigue can have an effect equivalent to that of the legal threshold of intoxication. However, you do not have to be falling asleep on your feet to be unsafe to drive. Undersleeping by as little as two hours can dull attention and slow reflexes.

Are you more likely to drive drowsy?

The first step is to recognize risk factors that make you more likely to drive while drowsy. These include driving late at night, shift work that disrupts sleeping patterns and untreated sleeping disorders. If you get at least eight hours of sleep at night, yet you wake up unrested and feel tired throughout the day, you should see a doctor. Disorders such as sleep apnea can severely degrade the quality of sleep you get; the resulting drowsiness can make it unsafe for you to drive.

Medications

Taking some prescription and over-the-counter medications can also cause sleepiness. Common culprits include anti-anxiety meds, cold remedies and antidepressants. Not everyone experiences side effects the same way, and some people can have atypical reactions. For this reason, avoid driving when beginning a new prescription, dosage or drug combination.

How to prevent drowsy driving

The best way to avoid drowsy driving is to consistently get between seven and eight hours of sleep every night. If you feel tired and know you will have to drive later, taking a nap can help. Caffeine can provide a quick burst of wakefulness, but it is not a long-term solution.

If you experience signs of drowsiness while driving, your best option is to pull over as soon as you can and get some rest before proceeding further. Common signs include yawning, rubbing your eyes, irritability, drifting attention or failing to remember parts of the drive. While it can seem inconvenient to pause your journey, continuing to drive while drowsy can lead to disaster.