Cars are getting more secure, with new safety features added every year. So why isn’t driving safer?

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It’s often because drivers don’t make the best choices. They’re a distracted group. Some are doing unsafe things like texting and driving or drinking and driving.

Others may not even know they are putting themselves — and all those on the road around them — at risk. That’s because they are distracted by something that’s not illegal. They are driving while drowsy.

In the car, distraction spells danger. The numbers are striking: In 2015, 3,477 people died because of distracted driving.

Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving often stems from a lack of sleep. But it can also be tied to untreated sleep problems, some medications and shift work.

Drivers who are sleepy:

  • Are less able to pay attention to the road.
  • Have slower response time when they need to turn or brake quickly.
  • Have poorer decision-making skills. 

The signs you may be driving while too tired to be safe are clear. You may find yourself:

  • Blinking often
  • Yawning
  • Missing turns or exits
  • Drifting into other lanes
  • Driving over the strip at the side of the road

What to Do

If you find yourself feeling sleepy as you drive, pull over to a safe place to take a 20-minute nap or change drivers.

To prevent drowsy driving, remember:

  • Drinking alcohol may increase drowsiness and impairment.
  • Medicines can cause drowsiness. Read drug labels to check for that potential side effect. And consider using other transportation while taking medicine that makes you less alert.
  • Skip driving during the peak sleepiness time (midnight to 6 a.m. and late afternoon).
  • Stay aware of signs of drowsiness, especially if you’re driving alone.
  • Drinking coffee or energy drinks is not always enough to keep you alert. They may help for only a short time. Sleep is the only cure for drowsy driving.

If you have a sleep-health problem, talk to your doctor about treatment plans.

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Lower your risk for drowsy driving on road trips.

Planning ahead for a long drive can go a long way to help avoid the risk of drowsy driving. Be sure to get enough sleep the night before (aim for seven to nine hours). Plan to stop for a break every two hours or about every 100 miles. Plan out where you will take these breaks before you start your trip.