Myths About Driving Fatigue

Drowsy Driving: Eight Deadly Myths About Driving Fatigue Busted

Updated Dec. 14, 2020

Driving while drowsy or fatigued is every bit as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. Most drivers are aware of the effect that alcohol may have on their driving ability and would be hesitant to get behind the wheel if they have had a drink, even if they believe they are within the legal BAC limit.

Sadly, this same level of caution is not applied to drowsy driving. Most Americans would hop into a car and drive despite being tired, without a moment’s thought or any realization of the danger they face. This is because many people have bought into false ideas and “myths” about driver fatigue, therefore believing they can manage their tiredness and stay safe on the roads, despite there being plenty of scientific evidence to the contrary.

In this module, we explore and disprove the most common drowsy driving myths.

Myth: Drinking coffee while driving will keep me awake

False! Caffeine might prevent you from achieving deep sleep, but it will not stave off sleep altogether. Studies have shown that people who rely on stimulants like coffee when they are sleep deprived are more likely to experience “microsleeps”, where they nod off for a few seconds at a time. Losing concentration for even a fraction of a second while driving can be deadly. When traveling at 55mph, your vehicle can cover around 300 feet in as little as four seconds.

Coffee may make you feel more alert, but your senses, judgment and reflexes will be just as impaired by fatigue. Even if you do not fall asleep at the wheel, your driving ability will be significantly impeded leaving you more likely to crash or be involved in a collision.

Myth: I would know if I were about to fall asleep

No, you wouldn’t. Most people believe they can predict and control when they fall asleep, but this is impossible. Think about it, have you ever been aware of the precise moment that you fall asleep? Feeling sleepy is the only warning you will get that falling asleep is imminent and from that moment on, you are a ticking time-bomb. If you feel sleepy while driving, pull over at the next safe opportunity and take a nap.

Myth: Playing the radio loudly or winding the windows down will keep me awake

There is no scientific evidence to support this belief, though it is one held by many drivers. Turning up the radio or rolling down the driver’s window may temporarily prevent you from falling asleep, though it will ultimately just add further sensory baggage to your fatigued brain and prevent you from driving safely. When you feel sleepy behind the wheel, pulling over to take a nap is always the answer. As a short-term solution, you may put the windows down or turn the radio up while you drive to a convenient rest stop.

Myth: I can drive well even with very little sleep

Not well enough. Fatigued drivers are physically incapable of being safe drivers. If you are driving while sleep deprived, you will be suffering the effects of fatigue whether you realize it or not. No matter what you think of your ability to “power through”, no human being can function well without sufficient time spent recovering through sleep.

Most adults require roughly 8 hours of sleep for every 16 waking hours. If you regularly get less sleep than this or suffer from sleep disturbances, your ability to drive safely will be impaired.

Myth: Pulling over to take a nap will not help

This is not true – it will definitely help! Many drivers falsely believe that they will not be able to sleep if they pull over to take a nap, or that a short sleep will only make them feel more tired. If you are fatigued enough to feel drowsy while you are driving, you are fatigued enough to fall asleep in your parked car. Furthermore, any amount of time sleeping will begin to counteract the negative effects of sleep deprivation. Even ten minutes of unconsciousness will help.

If you feel tired while driving and must pull over to rest, remember to do so in a safe, relatively busy area while keeping your car doors locked!

Myth: I’m young, driver fatigue will not affect me

Wrong again. While being fit and healthy is always a positive thing, being young may mean you are more susceptible to driver fatigue. Teenagers and young adults need more sleep on average than older people, at roughly 9 to 9.5 hours a night. Plus, teen drivers are far less likely to get good-quality sleep, due to hormone fluctuations and changes to their circadian rhythms. Add a busy schedule of school, work, studying, extracurricular activities and social time into the mix and the risk of driving while fatigued becomes significant.

Research also suggests that young drivers exhibit poorer judgment than older drivers. Not only are you more likely to feel tired, but you are also more likely to make dangerous decisions as a result.

Myth: Driving while tired is only dangerous if you feel sleepy

This is akin to believing that driving while drunk is only dangerous if you are seriously intoxicated! Driving with any alcohol in your system leads to impaired judgment, reflexes, reaction time and senses; the same is true of driving while fatigued. Even low-level mental or physical fatigue will leave you less able to:

All in all, this adds up to a far greater chance of crashing. Falling asleep at the wheel is not the only way that fatigued driving can kill you.

Myth: I’m used to driving while tired – I’ll be fine!

This is a particularly dangerous belief. If you regularly drive while tired and have so far avoided an accident, you are defying the odds. Continuing to get behind the wheel while suffering from fatigue just brings you closer to an inevitable collision or crash. In fact, people who often drive while knowingly tired are more likely to make a mistake and be injured or killed, as managing not to have an accident so far will have made them complacent.

Pulling over is the only safe option

Driving while fatigued is dangerous and trying to convince yourself that you can somehow mitigate that danger with will-power, stimulating substances or some other tactic only increases the risk of a collision occurring. The only way to prevent a car accident when you are tired is not to get behind the wheel in the first place. If you begin to feel drowsy while driving, get off the road and take a nap – it is the only safe choice!

Would you pass a driving test today?

Find out with our free quiz!


Like the article? Give us 5 points!

Click a star to add your vote

5.0 out of 5 stars based on 3 votes.

Read next

Preventing Driving Fatigue
Drowsy Driving 6 of 7

Preventing Drowsy Driving

Rest is the only cure for fatigue. When you are tired or feeling mentally or physically drained, the only sure way to stay safe is to rest before driving, or not to drive at all. After a hard day at school or a tiring shift at work, people often force themselves to drive, thinking they will rest when they get home.

Highway Hypnosis & Velocitation
Drowsy Driving 7 of 7

Highway Hypnosis and Velocitation

Highway hypnosis is a dangerous trance-like state, during which a driver may travel a short distance – or many miles – without having any recollection of the experience. Velocitation is a psychological phenomenon brought on by monotonous, extended periods of high-speed driving. When velocitation occurs, a driver loses touch with how fast they are traveling and often believes they are moving slower than they truly are.

Reducing Driving Risks
Reducing Driving Risks 1 of 9

Reducing Driving Risks

Every time you slip into the driver’s seat you are essentially strapping yourself in to a powerful, dangerous and potentially lethal machine. Making safe and sensible driving decisions is crucial, as you are subjecting yourself to considerable risk, simply by choosing to drive in the first place.

Medical Fitness for Driving 8 of 9

Safe Driving and Aging

Getting older does not necessarily mean that you are no longer fit to drive. According to Federal Highway Administration statistics, there are more than 41 million licensed drivers in the United States aged 65 or older. Unfortunately, the physical and mental changes associated with natural aging can adversely affect driving skills and increase the risk of being injured or killed in a car crash.

Medical Fitness for Driving 9 of 9

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Unintentional carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is responsible for roughly 500 fatalities and 15,000 emergency room visits around the United States every year. A large portion of these poisoning cases are caused by motor vehicle exhaust emissions. All drivers must be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and be able to spot the symptoms when it occurs.

Drowsy Driving 1 of 7

The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

Most people accept being tired as a normal part of their hectic, day-to-day lives. Tiredness rarely prevents us from fulfilling our regular daily tasks, such as working, going to school or seeing our friends, so we do not assume that it should stop us from driving to and from these activities. Sadly, driving while fatigued can be a fatal mistake.

Drowsy Driving 2 of 7

The Causes of Fatigue

Being fatigued does not necessarily mean feeling sleepy, though it can lead to that. The term “fatigue” describes a mental and physical state which can occur following a challenging or prolonged activity. A person who is fatigued has a lower-than-normal capacity for work and concentration, while being less capable of completing any task efficiently.

Drowsy Driving 3 of 7

Fatigue Risk Factors

Understanding the risk factors that increase your chances of becoming drowsy will help you to make sensible driving decisions. If you know you are at risk, you are more likely to be tuned in to your physical and mental state while driving. When you notice the symptoms of fatigue taking hold, you can take steps to maintain your safety.

Drowsy Driving 4 of 7

The Consequences of Drowsy Driving

When fatigued, a person cannot perform as well as they would usually during any task. When the task in question is maneuvering a large, heavy metal object that is hurtling along a roadway at speed, persevering despite the effects of fatigue invites death and destruction.