Drowsy driving, which was brought to the forefront last week when the Quebec government announced their awareness campaign, is not a new phenomenon. Yet, it has been downplayed for years now while two other road problems have garnered more attention: drunk driving and speeding/road rage.
Each year in the United States, 100,000 accidents, 40,000 injuries and 1,550 deaths are caused by drowsy driving
. In Canada, drowsy driving kills 400 and injures 2,100 people annually. These numbers are worrisome, especially knowing that 60% of Canadians have at some time been driving while tired. Of these, 15% have fallen asleep at the wheel, putting their own lives in danger as well as those of others on the road.
A study conducted by Transport Canada has revealed that one out of five deadly collisions is caused by drowsy driving. As with alcohol or drugs, fatigue also alters reaction time, reflexes and judgment, all crucial to driving safely. In December 2004, Canada adopted a strategy to battle against impaired driving caused by fatigue, with the aim of making Canadian roads amongst the safest in the world. Nevertheless, there’s still more work to be done...
The study showed that the worst times to take the wheel are at night between midnight and 6 am, as well as in the afternoon period between 1 pm and 3 pm, due to our sleep cycles. Transport Canada has found that drivers most likely to fall asleep at the wheel are:
- Men 25 years or younger
- Adults 50 years and older
- Workers with irregular hours (rotational shiftwork, for example)
- People who have been awake for more than 17 hours
- People with an accumulated lack of sleep
Obviously, if you have had a drink or taken drugs, you are even more at risk.
What are the signs of fatigue?
Frequent yawning, itchy eyes, heavy eyelids, lack of concentration, not remembering the last few kilometres, difficulty in maintaining a constant line on the road, are some of the signs that should trigger alarm bells in drivers. Most people have already experienced these symptoms without paying much attention to them. Yet, many accidents may have been prevented if those involved paid heed to these warning signs.
The advice given by different government authorities could help save lives. As such, they recommend that if you feel tired while driving, pull over to a safe spot (a rest area, for example) and take a nap - even if it’s just 20 minutes. You could also share driving responsibilities with another person or stop every two hours to take a breath of fresh air and stretch your legs. And finally, be sure to eat light meals and drink water during long trips.
Coming up soon: how to detect signs of fatigue