A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

AAA: Spring forward, but don’t drive drowsy; sleepy drivers are a major safety risk

The arrival of Daylight Saving Time this weekend means one less hour of sleep and the potential for more sleepy drivers on the road.  AAA is reminding drivers to adjust their clock and sleeping habits to make sure they’re alert behind the wheel.

(Don’t forget to move your clocks forward one hour.)

According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the percentage of crashes involving drowsiness is nearly eight times higher than federal estimates. The difficulty in detecting drowsiness following a crash makes drowsy driving one of the most underreported traffic safety issues.

“When the clocks change, sleep cycles are interrupted and drivers can be more tired than they realize,” said Lori Weaver Hawkins, public and government affairs manager, AAA Blue Grass. “Losing one hour of sleep takes an adjustment and motorists need to prepare by getting more rest, especially on Sunday.”

AAA photos

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 35% of U.S. drivers sleep less than the recommended minimum of seven hours daily. In AAA’s study, nearly all drivers (96%) say they view drowsy driving as a serious threat to their safety and a completely unacceptable behavior. However, 29 % admitted to driving when they were so tired, they had a hard time keeping their eyes open at some point in the past month.

According to the Kentucky State Police, crashes due to the motorist falling asleep were significantly down in 2020 – likely a result of the pandemic and fewer drivers on the road. However, the number of fatalities did not decrease as much as would be expected.

In 2019, there were a total of 2,073 crashes involving a driver who fell asleep or was feeling fatigued, with a total of 13 fatalities. In 2020, there were only 1,640 crashes due to those factors, a decrease of nearly 21%, with far fewer people on the roads. Yet, there were still 11 fatalities, a decrease of only 15%. 

“As many Americans struggle to balance their busy schedules, missing a few hours of sleep each day can often seem harmless,” added Weaver Hawkins. “But missing just two to three hours of sleep can more than quadruple your risk for a crash, which is the equivalent of driving drunk.”

Knowing the warning signs of drowsiness can help drivers avoid dozing off behind the wheel.

The most common symptoms include:

• Having trouble keeping your eyes open,

• Drifting from your lane,

• Not remembering the last few miles driven
Drivers however should not rely on their bodies to provide warning signs for drowsiness and should instead prioritize getting at least seven hours of sleep before hitting the road.

AAA recommends that drivers:

• Travel at times of the day when they are normally awake,

• Avoid heavy foods,

• Avoid medications that cause drowsiness or other impairment.

For longer trips, drivers should:

• Schedule a break every two hours or every 100 miles,

• Travel with an alert passenger and take turns driving,

• Do not underestimate the power of a quick nap.

Pulling into a rest stop and taking a quick catnap ― at least 20 minutes and no more than 30 minutes of sleep ― can help to keep you alert on the road.

The other issue increasing risk with the time change is darkness.

The Monday morning commute, and the morning commute for several weeks to come, will be much darker than what drivers are used to, a serious concern because 76 percent of pedestrian fatalities happen when it’s dark.

Seasonal transitions not only mean lack of sleep, but also allergy issues. AAA advises motorists to be mindful of how medications taken to cure seasonal flare-ups may impair their ability to drive, causing drowsiness. Check your medications here.


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  1. Melissa B says:

    Don’t we move our clocks forward an hour in the spring?

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