Actions Taken When Feel Sleepy While Driving

While only about 11% of all drivers say they have nodded off or fallen asleep while driving in the past year, we asked all drivers what actions they take if they feel sleepy while driving. About one-half of all drivers mention multiple actions, most of which serve as a change of status quo that alters the current driving experience. The majority of actions are physical in nature rather than cognitive changes. It is important to note that drivers who have nodded off while driving take different actions than those who have never nodded off.

The largest proportion of drivers (43%) say they pull over and take a nap, while an additional 15% say they just pull over or get off the road. Six percent (6%) change drivers. About one in ten (9%) get out of the car to stretch or exercise. About one in four (26%) open a window to get air, while about one in five get a coffee or soda to drink (17%) or get something to eat (3%). One in seven (14%) say they turn on the radio or increase its volume, while an additional 3% say they sing or talk to himself or herself or another person (via cell phone) or a fellow passenger. [Figure 16-A]

By Gender and Age

Male drivers are much more likely to say they pull over and take a nap if they feel sleepy while driving (46% as compared to 39% of females), while female drivers are more likely to open a window (28% as compared to 24%). [Figure 16-B]

The prevalence of drivers taking physical actions such as pulling over to nap, getting out of the car to stretch or exercise, and pulling over to get off the road all increase somewhat with age. Just 33% of drivers under age 21 reports that they pull over and nap as compared to 48% of those over age 45. Similarly, just 3% of the young drivers get out to exercise or stretch as compared to 12% of the older drivers. Young drivers are most likely to rely upon turning the radio loud to keep them awake if they feel sleepy. More than one-third (35%) of drivers under 21 rely on this action as compared to just 6% of drivers over age 64. [Figure 16-C]

By Drowsy Driving Experience

Drivers who have ever nodded off while driving are more likely than those who have never nodded off at the wheel to open a window (34% as compared to 21% of those who have never nodded off), to get a soda or coffee (20% as compared to 15%), get out of the car and stretch or exercise (12% compared to 7%), and to turn the radio on loud (19% compared to 11%). Those who have never nodded off while driving are more likely to say they pull over and take a nap (46% versus 38%) or pull over to get off of the road (16% compared to 12%). [Figure 16-D]