UNITED STATES—Driving while tired is one of the most dangerous things that you can do. Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel account for approximately 4% of the nation’s traffic fatalities each year. Failing to pull over when you’re too tired to focus, drive defensively, or even stay awake can change your life forever. The following are a few simple ways to determine if you’re too sleepy to safely operate your automobile.

You Didn’t Sleep Much or at All the Night Before

If you haven’t slept at all in the last 24 hours, it’s safe to assume that you’re too tired to drive. In fact, in this instance, that is the only safe assumption to make. Driving when you’ve had less than five hours of sleep is always risky. Make a rest stop, refresh, and resume your trip after you’ve regained your focus and energy.

Consider Your Mood

Irritability is a common sign of fatigue. If you find yourself easily frustrated with other drivers, or getting annoyed at normally trivial things, your irritable mood could be the result of sleepiness. This type of irritability is often accompanied by restless arms and legs, and the feeling of needing to stand up and move around.

Even if you manage to stay awake until you reach your destination, you’re unlikely to get there incident-free. Driving while irritable due to fatigue can cause you to engage in more aggressive driving, speed, and make other hasty and potentially harmful driving decisions.

You Have No Memory of the Last Few Miles

“Zoning out” or daydreaming while driving is always a bad sign. More often than not, this means that you’re too sleepy to keep your eyes and your attention on the road. If you have a difficult time remembering the last few exits, road signs, or landmarks, it’s probably best to pull off.

You Can’t Stop Yawning or Touching Your Eyes

Few actions are as closely associated with sleepiness as yawning. Moreover, once you start yawning, it’s usually pretty difficult to stop. Not only is yawning a definite sign of sleepiness, but it’s a physical action that’s guaranteed to impede your focus, your reaction times, and your awareness of all that lies around you. Touching or rubbing your eyes can have the same effect. When the two are done together, your vision can become blurry, your eyes may water, and your attention will be everywhere but on the road.

Keep in mind that you have to account for other drivers being fatigued or distracted as well. Relying on other people to make the defensive driving decisions that you’re no longer able to isn’t guaranteed to work out. Consider that other drivers around you may be:

  • On the verge of falling asleep themselves
  • Mentally distracted
  • Inebriated or otherwise under the influence
  • Struggling with automotive problems
  • Distracted by their passengers or in-car entertainment
  • On their cell phones

Sleepy drivers never know what they’re likely to encounter as they struggle to reach their destinations. You can find out more about the secondary risks of driving while tired by searching online.

You’re Having a Hard Time Keeping Your Head Up

If yawning, irritability, and the inability to remember the last few road signs don’t cue you in to your fatigue, having a hard time keeping your head up should. Nodding off so that you’re head jerks suddenly down means that you’re falling asleep.

Far worse than being an overly tired driver, at this point, you’re running the risk of actually snoozing behind the wheel. The very first time you catch yourself nodding off and then jerking quickly back awake, pull over immediately.

Taking an impromptu nap in your vehicle hardly seems appealing, but in some instances, making the decision to do so could save your life. Choosing not to drive while sleepy can also spare the lives of other motorists and pedestrians around you, and prevent devastating legal and financial consequences. While you might be in a hurry to get where you’re going, making sure that you get there safely is always of the utmost importance.