The Risks of Driver Fatigue

Monday, April 23, 2012

Everyone knows the dangers and consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol.  Unfortunately, fewer consider the risks of driving under the influence of fatigue before getting behind the wheel.  According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), driving while drowsy can be just as fatal as driving under the influence of alcohol.  In fact, the Adelaide Centre for Sleep Research conducted a study revealing that drivers who have not slept in 24 hours exhibit driving behaviours equivalent to a person with a blood alcohol content of 0.1 g/100ml (0.08 g/100 ml is the maximum legal BAC).

The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators notes that driver fatigue causes 4%, and is a contributing factor in 19%, of all fatal vehicle collisions.  About 500 individuals die each year in Canada due to traffic collisions caused in whole or part by driver fatigue.

What makes fatigued drivers so dangerous?  Slower reaction times, decreased awareness and impaired judgment.  Tired drivers may not notice crossing pedestrians until it’s too late to react.  Or perhaps they see an oncoming vehicle but can’t react quickly enough to avert a collision.  In short, fatigued drivers are more likely to cause traffic accidents and injuries than those who are well-rested.

It’s not unusual for people to drive when they’re tired.  In a study conducted by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, one out of five respondents said they had nodded off or fallen asleep while driving at least once in the 12 months preceding administration of the survey.  Think about it. Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep last night, but you still have to get to work this morning.  You probably climb into your car without even giving it a second thought.  Or maybe you have to make a long trip and you don’t want to take the time to stop for breaks.  After a few hours, you’re tired. 

The time of day you travel is important to your level of energy and alertness.  While night time is the obvious danger period, as darkness signals to our bodies we should sleep, early morning and mid-afternoon hours are peak times for fatigue-related accidents.  Monotonous routes and the hypnotic effects of long stretches of driving can play a role as well.

The good news is that the symptoms of fatigue are easy to recognize, and if you heed them by pulling off the road to rest, you can stave off potential consequences.  If you notice any of the following, exit at the next safe exit and take a break:

  • Nodding off.

  • Frequent yawning.

  • Missing road signs.

  • Not remembering the last few kilometers.

  • Drifting out of your lane.

  • Inability to concentrate or carry on a conversation.

  • Slow reaction time or dulling of your senses.

  • Tired eyes or excessive blinking.

All too often, drivers think they can revive themselves by opening a window, turning on music or drinking caffeinated beverages.  The only proven method for reducing fatigue, however, is getting rest.  The IBC recommends that driver’s take breaks every two hours and avoid driving between 1 a.m. and 7 a.m., the time when the body is most likely to crave sleep.