Is Drowsy Driving Illegal in Virginia?

Driving while drowsy is a very serious and growing problem in the United States, which causes tens of thousands of accidents every year.

Unlike some states, Virginia does not have a statewide drowsy driving law on the books. However, that doesn’t mean that driving while tired is legal, or even a good idea.

While it may not be illegal to drive while tired, doing so is extremely dangerous.

Furthermore, if you get into an accident because you were too tired to drive safely, you could still face significant criminal charges.

In this article, we’ll talk about what drowsy driving is, and how the Virginia Code deals with it. We’ll also go over some steps you can take to avoid drowsy driving.

What is Drowsy Driving?

exhausted young businessman sleeping in the car while driving the car on the road

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, drowsy driving refers to any situation where a driver is too tired to remain alert.

This is extremely dangerous, because tired drivers exhibit slower reaction times, lesser awareness, and impaired thinking.

Worse, a drowsy driver may not even realize that their driving is impaired.

As a result, drowsy driving accounts for close to 90,000 accidents per year, about 800 of which are fatal.

While such accidents are most common late at night, they can occur at any time during the day.

Furthermore, drowsy driving accidents can occur anywhere, although they are most common on interstate highways and other major roadways.

Is Drowsy Driving Illegal in Virginia?

As mentioned above, no law explicitly prohibits drowsy driving in Virginia. That’s because it’s difficult to prove drowsy driving in court.

For that reason, anti-drowsy driving campaigns tend to focus more on public education than on changing state laws.

However, this doesn’t mean that drowsy drivers get a free pass in Virginia.

Instead, the state prosecutes particularly egregious cases of drowsy driving through other laws, most commonly Virginia Code § 46.2-852.

This is one of Virginia’s reckless driving laws, which makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor to drive in any dangerous way.


“Any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly or…in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property or any other person shall be guilty of reckless driving.”

Virginia Code § 46.2-852

If there are no other charges, the maximum penalties for reckless driving in Virginia are a $2,500 fine and a 1-year jail sentence.

Additionally, the court may choose to revoke your driver’s license for one year or more.

What is Reckless Driving?

In Virginia, simply driving while drowsy isn’t a justification for a reckless driving charge. Put another way, a police officer can’t charge someone with reckless driving just because they seem tired.

Instead, the officer must witness the individual driving unsafely in order to charge them.

That being said, “reckless driving” covers a wide range of offenses in Virginia.

Here’s a brief list of examples where drowsy driving and reckless driving overlap:

  • Driving more than 20 MPH over the speed limit, or more than 80 MPH, is reckless driving in Virginia. A drowsy driver might not notice how fast they’re going until it’s too late.
  • Failing to maintain control of your vehicle is also reckless driving in Virginia. This includes drifting into another lane, failing to brake appropriately, and other common symptoms of drowsy driving.
  • Failing to signal appropriately is reckless driving in Virginia.
  • Finally, reckless driving encompasses any behavior that causes extreme danger to pedestrians or other motorists.

How Can I Avoid Drowsy Driving?

truck accident, up against a guardrail.

Drowsy driving is a growing problem in the US.

In 2010, for example, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 41 percent of drivers surveyed had fallen asleep at the wheel at least once.

Furthermore, 11 percent reported that their drowsy driving incident occurred within the past year.

Fortunately, there are three important steps you can take to prevent drowsy driving, which we’ll outline below.

However, in general it helps to be aware of your limits, and to act to keep yourself alert.

It’s also important to report drowsy driving when you see others doing it.

Knowing When You’re Too Tired to Drive

In most cases, drowsy driving happens when drivers fail to realize how tired they actually are.

Here are a few signs that indicate when someone is too tired to drive:

  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, or feeling that your eyelids are heavy.
  • Frequent daydreaming, or dreamlike, disconnected thoughts.
  • Memory issues.
  • Repeatedly yawning or rubbing your eyes.
  • Drifting into the other lane or onto the shoulder.

If you begin to experience these symptoms, its time to find a place to rest.

Driving while exhausted is extremely dangerous, even over a short period of time.

Remaining Awake and Aware

If you do find yourself falling asleep, it’s important to take action.

While the best solution to drowsy driving is to get a full night’s sleep before driving, here are a few emergency options:

  • Find a safe place to pull over and take a short nap. However, remember to give yourself time to wake up, ideally by walking around. Driving while groggy from a nap is just as dangerous as drowsy driving.
  • If you plan on driving a long distance, bring a friend. In addition to keeping you awake, driving with a friend will allow you to switch drivers when necessary.
  • Try to avoid driving between midnight and 6 A.M. If possible, its best to drive during the day, when the presence of natural light can keep you awake.

Reporting Dangerous Driving

If you witness another person driving dangerously, don’t be afraid to report it.

The State of Virginia maintains a year-round reckless driver hotline, which you can contact by dialing #77 on your phone.

However, you should also do your best to avoid contact with a dangerous or drowsy driver.


tired man yawning on the front seat of the car holding coffee to go.

Unfortunately, drowsy driving remains an issue throughout Virginia.

While state law provides municipalities with ways to hold drowsy drivers accountable, this is not an ideal solution.

Instead, it’s best for Virginia motorists to educate themselves on how to avoid drowsy driving.

If, however, you’re charged with reckless driving as a result of drowsy driving, you need to speak with an attorney immediately.

Reckless driving is a serious charge in Virginia that can seriously impact your life, either through huge fines, jail time, or the loss of your license.

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