Morgan Pritchett
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5 Signs That You’re Too Tired to Drive

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female driver yawning with eyes closed and hand over mouth while at the wheel of a car
Photo: The News Wheel

Earlier this month, I got behind the wheel of my SUV at 2 p.m. on approximately three or four hours of sleep. I had a 10-hour journey ahead of me, from rural Ohio to downtown Philadelphia. Was it my smartest decision? No. Was it necessary? Yes. My wife and I had a hotel booked for that night (with our dogs) and we were going to be meeting the movers at our new place bright and early the next morning. Along the way — and thankfully, near the end — I started feeling sleepy behind the wheel. While I was able to get to my destination safely, that is not always the case for some. Be sure to look out for these five signs that you’re too tired to drive.

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1. Physical signals

If you’re yawning repeatedly or sighing deeply, these are ways that your body is telling you it needs to rest. Other physical signals include heavy eyelids, frequent blinking, and difficulty keeping your head up. Drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drinking and driving, as your attention span and reaction times are greatly hindered. It’s best if you pull over at a safe rest area (or a hotel if you can book one) to nap or call it a night.

2. Lack of focus

You’ve got your playlist pumping and you’re cruising along the highway going 70 mph. But suddenly you don’t remember the last 5 or 10 miles. Were you zoned out? Did your mind just go on auto-pilot? If you can’t get your brain to focus on driving a two-ton vehicle at speeds that high, it’s time to pull over. When your mind wanders, you’ll have less time to realize that the cars ahead of you have come to a complete stop due to construction or an accident.

3. Erratic behavior

As most of us can attest to being “hangry” every once in a while, we can get just as irritable when we’re tired, too. While there’s no punny name for it, being irritated behind the wheel can lead to making dangerous decisions. This includes things like tailgating, failure to use your blinker, missing turns or exits, and even participating in road rage.

Male driver stuck in traffic and gesturing in a frustrated manner
Photo: State Farm

4. Feeling restless

This ties in closely with the feeling of irritation, but if you find yourself getting annoyed at slow drivers or upset that you’re still driving, you should probably just stop for a bit. Those restless feelings can cause you to make questionable decisions or even cause you to lose focus.

5. Forgetfulness

Was it exit 7A or 7B that I was supposed to take? Do I need to take the toll road? Did I pee the last time I stopped at a rest area? If you’re asking yourself a bunch of questions that you don’t know the answers to due to forgetfulness, you might be getting tired. Your brain can only handle so much in a day. If it doesn’t get enough rest, only the most important things stay while everything else is gone (temporarily). If you have to keep checking the directions to know where to go, this can cause more distractions while driving. You should just take a break instead.

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When you notice any of these things happening to you, you should pull over as soon as it is safely possible. The NHTSA recommends taking a 20-minute nap and then drinking some caffeine to help you perk up. When you get back on the road, you’ll feel refreshed and ready for the miles ahead.