Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel

Drive alert—protect yourself and others on the road! Learn the risks of drowsy driving and how to prevent it.

Drowsy driving is the dangerous combination of driving when sleepy. This usually happens when a driver has not slept enough, but it can also happen because of untreated sleep disorders or shift work. Prescription and over-the-counter medications can also cause drowsiness, and alcohol can interact with sleepiness to increase both impairment and drowsiness.

Photo of hands on a steering wheel of a car, driving at night.

No one knows the exact moment when sleep will come over their body. Falling asleep at the wheel is clearly dangerous, but being sleepy also affects your ability to drive safely, even if you don’t fall asleep. Drowsiness:

  • Makes you less able to pay attention to the road.1
  • Slows your reaction time if you must brake or steer suddenly.1
  • Affects your ability to make good decisions.1

Did You Know?

  • In a CDC survey, an estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (aged 18 years or older) reported having fallen asleep while driving in the previous 30 days.2
  • In the same CDC survey, adult drivers who snore or usually sleep 6 or fewer hours per day were more likely to report falling asleep while driving than drivers who do not snore or usually sleep 7 or more hours per day, respectively.2
  • Drowsy driving was involved in 91,000 crashes in 2017—resulting in 50,000 injuries and nearly 800 deaths.3 In 2020, there were 633 deaths based on police reports.3 However, these numbers are underestimated, and over 6,000 fatal crashes each year may involve a drowsy driver.4
Illustration of a man falling asleep driving a car

Researchers estimate that more than 70 million Americans have a sleep disorder.6 View full infographic.

Who’s at greater risk of drowsy driving and related crashes and deaths?

  • Teen and young adult drivers.1,3,5
  • Drivers on the road between midnight and 6 a.m. or in the later afternoon.1,3
  • Drivers who don’t get enough sleep.1-3
  • Commercial truck drivers.6
  • Drivers who work the night shift or long shifts.1,6
  • Drivers with untreated sleep disorders—like sleep apnea, where breathing repeatedly stops and starts.1,6
  • Drivers who use medicines that make them sleepy.3

Learn the warning signs of drowsy driving:

  • Yawning or blinking frequently.
  • Trouble remembering the past few miles driven.
  • Missing your exit.
  • Drifting from your lane.
  • Hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road.
If you have any of these warning signs,

pull over to rest or let someone else drive. Simply turning up the radio or opening the window are not effective ways to keep you alert. For more warning signs, visit the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s Prevent Drowsy Driving page.

Prevent drowsy driving before taking the wheel

  • Get enough sleep! Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep a day, and teens need at least 8 hours.
  • Develop good sleeping habits, such as sticking to a sleep schedule.
  • If you have a sleep disorder or have symptoms of a sleep disorder such as snoring or feeling sleepy during the day, talk to your doctor about treatment options.
  • Before you drive, avoid taking medicines that make you sleepy. Be sure to check the label on any medicines you take or talk to your pharmacist.
  • Before you drive, avoid drinking alcohol. Alcohol impairs the skills needed for driving and increases drowsiness.
  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA Drowsy Driving Research and Program Plan. U.S. Department of Transportation; 2016. DOT publication HS 812 252. Accessed November 18, 2022. https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.gov/files/drowsydriving_strategicplan_030316.pdf
  2. Wheaton AG, Shults RA, Chapman DP, Ford ES, Croft JB. Drowsy driving and risk behaviors—10 states and Puerto Rico, 2011–2012. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014; 63:557-562.
  3. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drowsy Driving. Accessed November 18, 2022. https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drowsy-driving
  4. Tefft BC, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Prevalence of Motor Vehicle Crashes Involving Drowsy Drivers, United States, 2009–2013. Washington, DC: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety; 2014. Accessed November 18, 2022.
  5. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Teen Driving. Accessed November 18, 2022. https://www.nhtsa.gov/road-safety/teen-driving
  6. Institute of Medicine. Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006. Accessed November 18, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19960/pdf/Bookshelf_NBK19960.pdf