Skip to main content

Drowsy driving is a common cause of car accidents despite being completely preventable. Aside from the dangers of drowsy driving, is it illegal? The semi-complicated answer is that driving while sleep-deprived isn’t unlawful everywhere. In fact, only a couple of U.S. states have laws directly addressing drowsy driving. However, a person can still face major consequences for crashing their car due to fatigue.

Here’s a look into the specifics of this aspect of car safety.

Is driving while drowsy, tired, or sleep-deprived illegal?

Drowsy driving: Is it safe to drive after taking cough syrup and other cold medicine
Drowsy-looking driver | Yavuz Arslan/Ullstein bild via Getty Images

Only two states have laws that address driving while drowsy, tired, or sleep-deprived. The first was New Jersey, which implemented its law in 2003. The second was Arkansas, which added an identical law in 2013. Though only those two states have laws, many consider driving drowsy reckless, and some even punish it on the same levels as a DUI.

Drivers should be aware that even if drowsy driving isn’t illegal in their state, they could still face severe consequences. For example, if you caused an accident while seep-deprived, you’d have to accept any legal responsibility.

There are many signs of being too drowsy to drive. For one, if you excessively yawn or have trouble keeping your eyes open, you should pull over. Veering outside your lane and missing your exit are other warning signs of driving while sleep-deprived. There is nothing wrong with finding a safe place to stop until you’re awake and alert enough to drive again.

What is Maggie’s Law, and how does it discourage drowsy driving?

Maggie’s Law originated in New Jersey over two decades ago. Essentially, the law deems driving while knowingly fatigued as reckless. It defines “knowingly fatigued” as “being without sleep for a period in excess of 24 consecutive hours.”

Under Maggie’s Law, people who commit vehicular homicide while sleepy or fatigued can face up to 10 years in prison and receive upward of a $100,000 fine. Gov. James E. McGreevey signed the bill into law in 2003. Arkansas adopted the same law in 2013.

Maggie’s Law is named after Maggie McDonnell. The college student died in 1997 in a head-on car crash caused by a driver who admitted he hadn’t slept for about 30 hours. The man, who had fallen asleep behind the wheel, also admitted to being under the influence of drugs, CBS News reported.

Is highway hypnosis the same as drowsy driving?

Former Route 666 - Devil's Highway - US Highway 191 name change
A car drives on Highway 191 in Utah | Marica van der Meer/Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Drowsy driving and highway hypnosis both involved impaired motorists. However, the two are different even though a driver could experience both simultaneously. While drowsy driving involves a person who is sleep-deprived, highway hypnosis is when a motorist zones out after a while and sees signs and white lines repeatedly. People also sometimes refer to this phenomenon as “white-line fever.” In a nutshell, the person is driving without really paying attention.

It might not sound too bad, but highway hypnosis can be dangerous. When experiencing it, most drivers can’t remember their specific actions. That means they’re driving in a trance-like state and could get into all sorts of trouble, including a wreck.

You can avoid highway hypnosis by ensuring you’re well rested, avoiding driving late at night or early in the morning, and having good posture. Drivers should also take breaks when traveling long distances.

5 tips to avoid driving while sleepy

Sleep-deprived driving can cause car accidents. So, people behind the wheel should take the proper precautions to protect everyone on the road. Here are a few tips to avoid driving while sleepy:

  • Get lots of sleep before heading out.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol and other drugs before driving.
  • Ensure any medications are safe to use while operating a vehicle.
  • Avoid late-night/early-morning driving.
  • Pull over into a safe area if you feel too tired to drive.

Car accidents happen every day, and they are always unfortunate. However, many can be avoided if motorists are well-rested and clear-minded.