Alcohol can be a factor in crashes involving young people, but sleepiness can be just as dangerous and possibly more common. With sleep deprivation reaching epidemic proportions among American teenagers and young adults, drowsiness can have a major impact on young drivers’ safety behind the wheel.

Consider the facts:

  • Sleepiness is hazardous for young drivers. Studies show more than half of all fall-asleep crashes involve drivers aged 25 years or younger.
  • Most young drivers are tired. Biology, academic pressures, extracurricular activities and early school start times conspire to keep young people from getting enough sleep. Just one in five adolescents get an optimal nine hours of sleep on school nights; nearly one-half (45%) sleep less than eight hours on school nights – not enough for a teen’s brain development.
  • Most young drivers drive drowsy. According to NSF’s 2006 Sleep in America poll, more than half of teens drove drowsy in the past year. In fact, 15% of drivers in 10th to 12th grades state they drove drowsy at least once a week. These are accidents waiting to happen.

Preventing a Fall-Asleep Crash

The best way to avoid a drowsy driving crash is to get adequate sleep on a regular basis, practice good sleep habits, and to seek treatment for sleep problems, should they arise. In addition, here are some important driving dos and don’ts:

  • Drive if you are tired or on medication that may cause drowsiness. (Check medication labels and speak to your doctor.)
  • Rely on the radio, an open window or other tricks to keep you awake.
  • Drive at times when you would normally be sleeping.
  • Drink even a small amount of alcohol, especially if you are sleepy.
  • Get a good night’s sleep before a long drive.
  • Get off the road if you notice any of the warning signs of fatigue.
  • Take a nap – find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap.
  • Consume caffeine – the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours, but DO NOT rely on it for long periods.
  • Try consuming caffeine before taking a short nap to get the benefits of both.
  • Drive with a friend. A passenger who remains awake can help watch for signs of fatigue in the driver and can take a turn driving, if necessary.
  • Always wear your seatbelt.

When we drive, we take responsibility for our own safety and the safety of others on the road with us. No trip is worth a life. Before you hit the road, keep these tips in mind so that you can drive alert and arrive alive.

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The National Sleep Foundation is dedicated to improving health and well-being through sleep education and advocacy.