Consequences of Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving drowsy drivers

Did you know, drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence? Whether you refer to these drivers as drowsy drivers, fatigued drivers or tired drivers, drivers who may be sleepy have delayed reactions like those who have been drinking alcohol and tend to make bad driving decisions.

  • About 100,000 crashes, 71,000 injuries and 1,550 fatalities each year are caused by fatigued drivers.
  • 55% of drowsy driving crashes are caused by drivers less than 25 years old.
  • Being awake for 18 hours is equal to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08%, which is legally drunk and leaves you at equal risk for a crash.

What is drowsy driving?

Just like your body needs food and water, it also needs sleep. In fact, it is such a strong need, that at some point, your brain will force you to sleep no matter how hard you try not to.

You may not realize how sleepy or tired you are when you are behind the wheel. The same is true of your body; your brain can force your body to sleep not knowing you are behind the wheel.

Who is at Risk for Drowsy Driving?

Plain and simple: everyone, whether you are a driver or a passenger. People who drive drowsy put themselves in danger; however, they also pose a risk to everyone on the road.

The fact of the matter is that any driver can succumb to fatigue, but there are specific groups that are at a higher risk, which includes:

  • Young male drivers
  • Shift workers and business travelers
  • Commercial truck drivers, especially long-haul drivers
  • Drivers who regularly do not get enough sleep or who have been awake for long periods of time
  • Drivers who have untreated sleep disorders
  • Drivers who use medications that make you drowsy
  • Drivers who have been drinking or taking other drugs

Working the night shift means your sleep patterns go against the body’s natural pattern of sleeping and waking. It basically throws your internal clock off. The same is true for those who travel across different time zones.

Some people get less than the amount of sleep their bodies need to feel well and rested causing a sleep debt that can grow larger and larger; that sleepiness affects your attention and performance causing you to be less alert. In addition, your body is not meant to go for long periods without sleep; sleep deprivation is caused when someone stays up for long periods of time, such as a student cramming for a test.

Driving under the influence while drowsy greatly lowers your mental and physical alertness, which results in more swerving and drifting off the road.

Questions? Our knowledgeable staff is available at (877) 284-6600.

Signs of Fatigue and Drowsiness

  • Unable to keep your eyes open, frequent blinking or heavy eyelids
  • Trouble keeping your head up or you “nod off”
  • Frequent yawning and/or rubbing the eyes
  • Difficulty focusing on the road
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven
  • Missed exits or other traffic signs
  • Drifting into the other lane or onto the shoulder/rumble strip
  • Tailgating
  • Feeling restless and irritable

Statistics Related to Drowsy Driving

car accident drowsy driving tired drivers fatigued drivers drowsy drivers driving under the influence delayed reactions bad driving decisionsDrivers who may be sleepy or tired have delayed reactions and tend to make bad driving decisions.

One of the most serious consequences of insufficient sleep is traffic accidents due to drowsy driving. A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates that one out of every six deadly traffic accidents, and one out of eight crashes requiring hospitalization of car drivers or passengers is due to drowsy driving (AAA, 2010).

  • Nearly three-quarters of adults in America drive a car to and from work, and many are drowsy drivers, according to NSF’s 2001 Sleep in America poll.
  • The NHTSA conservatively estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes are the direct result of driver fatigue each year, resulting in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.
  • 60% of adult drivers – about 168 million people – say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy and 37% (or 103 million people) have actually fallen asleep at the wheel. [Source: NSF’s 2005 Sleep in America poll]

In addition:

  • If you work the night shift, your risk increases by nearly 6 times.
  • At least 15% of all heavy truck crashes involve fatigue.
  • Studies have shown that drivers who have been awake for more than 15 hours are much more likely to cause a crash.
  • According to NSF’s 2000 Sleep in America poll, older adults are more likely to pull over and nap than younger drivers, who are most likely to drive when drowsy and least likely to pull over and nap.

Share these infographics from the National Sleep Foundation to help educate others on drowsy driving.

[Sources: Sleep Foundation, National Sleep Foundation, UCLA Health]

Need legal assistance?


Accidents due to fatigue and drowsy driving can be devastating, leaving you with severe injuries and emotional trauma. They can also be difficult to prove since drivers may not be aware or admit they were drowsy at the time of the accident and police officers do not always obtain that information.

If you have been seriously injured in an accident caused by a tired truck driver or drowsy driver and need to understand your legal options, contact our experienced car accident attorneys at (877) 284-6600 for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.



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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published October 31, 2017. It was reviewed on November 7, 2023 and updated for content and accuracy.

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