NIOSH Training for Nurses on Shift Work and Long Work Hours

Preventing Crashes (Continued)

Strategies to prevent a crash due to drowsy driving

  • To help prevent drowsiness from occurring, get adequate sleep. Most adults need about 7 to 8 hours to maintain proper alertness.
  • If you are very sleep deprived and sleepy, consuming caffeine and taking a short nap still might not keep you awake enough to drive safely. Accidents can happen in the last few miles before arriving home, so it may not be wise to continue driving even if you have only a little more to go. Almost 60% of respondents who fell asleep while driving said this occurred when driving less than 1 hour and 70% reported feeling awake enough to drive at the beginning of the trip.10
  • Consider getting transportation home or taking a nap at your worksite at the end of your shift. Do not risk causing a fatigue-related crash that potentially could kill you or someone else. Remember: if you are sleep-deprived you cannot control when microsleeps occur and cannot reliably force yourself to stay awake. Just a few seconds of sleep while driving can cause you to lose control of the car and crash.
  • If your job involves shift work or long hours, make concrete plans about how you will avoid driving when drowsy so you are better prepared if that situation occurs. Some hospitals have a fund specifically to allow night shift nurses to take a taxi home and back to work if they know they are unsafe to drive. Or you can make arrangements for a family member or friend to pick you up and drive you home from work. Or you can rent a bedroom close to work if the need arises.
If you are struggling to stay awake while driving and have put the window down, turned up the radio, pinched yourself, or resorted to other strategies, you are already impaired enough to cause an accident. Research does not support that those strategies help.10 Also, using the cell phone while driving is not a proven method to remain awake. On the contrary, safety experts recommend banning use of cell phones while driving because it increases risk for a crash.
Module:11, Page 5 of 7
Page last reviewed: March 31, 2020