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Driving when you’re a little sleep-deprived seems like something everyone does. It’s not unusual to get into your car after a long day of work and have to face rush hour traffic until it gets dark. If it’s something most people do so it can’t be that big of a deal, right? Wrong. Driving drowsy is quite dangerous. In fact, some researchers even compare it to impaired driving.

What happens when you drive sleepy 

Drowsiness makes drivers inattentive to what’s happening on the road, slows down their reaction time, and can impact their ability to make good decisions. Being awake and alert is imperative to stay safe on the road; weather conditions can change quickly, and so can the behaviour of other drivers.

The National Sleep Foundation says that “being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive like you have a blood alcohol level of .05.” While the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit is .08, you can also face serious consequences for having a BAC of .05.

Signs you’re drowsy

One of the most surprising things about driving drowsy is that many drivers don’t realize they’re doing it. Getting in their car after a  night of tossing and turning to face rush hour traffic is a part of so many people’s routines, they don’t realize how spent they are when they’re driving.

Telltale signs that you’re drowsy may include:

  • Frequent yawning 
  • Nodding off
  • Difficulty maintaining a consistent speed
  • Straddling lanes 
  • Missing road signs or turns

How common is drowsy driving?

One-third of drivers have actually fallen asleep behind the wheel. Considering that the habits of sleepy drivers can be compared to that of impaired drivers, the prevalence of drowsy driving makes the roads increasingly dangerous.

Groups who are most likely to drive drowsy include:

  • Drivers who don’t get enough sleep 
  • People with undiagnosed sleep disorders
  • Commercial drivers 
  • Shift workers 

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How to combat drowsy driving

Of course, you can make sure you’re well-rested before taking a drive – but what about those days that you just don’t have that luxury? We have some quick and easy tips for staying alert on your drive, even if you skipped out on a full night’s rest.

Choose your snacks wisely

If you’re feeling sleepy on your commute, your first instinct might be to reach for a dose of caffeine. While it will wake you up physically, there’s no guarantee it’ll ensure mental alertness. Drinking beverages low in sugar and eating snacks high in protein and low in fat will give you the energy you need to make it to your destination safely.

Take a break

You don’t necessarily need to pull over for a nap, but if you catch yourself starting to nod off, pull off to get a snack or take a walk. Pausing to get out of your car and get a good stretch can give you the boost of energy you need to continue driving safely.

Keep yourself entertained

Being stuck in traffic or on a long drive can be a drag, so make sure to select some entertainment before you pull off. Upbeat music or a podcast are great choices, and you can even take a buddy with you.

Having someone else to talk to or to take turns driving with is a great way to ensure you both stay safe on the road. Find a buddy for that road trip you have planned, or carpool to work with a co-worker who lives nearby. Plus, you’ll be able to use any HOV lanes on your route – who doesn’t love bypassing traffic?

During this time of the year, it can be especially tough to commute with Daylight Saving Time ending, and the mornings and evenings getting darker even earlier. Take a look at our tips on staying safe when everyone’s falling back. Most importantly, remember to take a second to think about how tired you are before you get behind the wheel.

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