If you’re driving tired… you’re driving impaired.
Drowsy drivers put themselves and other road users at risk. Fatigue affects our ability to drive by slowing reaction time, decreasing awareness and impairing judgment. Evidence shows that an over-tired driver can be as dangerous as a drunk driver. Many who would never drink and drive think nothing of hitting the road exhausted. According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation an alarming 20% of Canadians admit to falling asleep at the wheel at least once a year. Transport Canada estimates fatigue is a factor in 20% of fatal collisions. (2010 CCTMA)
Assessing Risk Factors
Ask yourself these questions:
- Have you been awake for 18 hours or more?
- Have you had six hours sleep or less in the last 24 hours?
- Do you often drive between midnight and 6 a.m.?
- Do you frequently feel drowsy while you’re driving?
- Do you work the night shift?
- Do you work more than one job?
- Do you have any sleep disorders?
If you have any of these indicators you are at a much higher risk of a drowsy-driving crash, even if you don’t feel sleepy. Half the drivers who had drowsy-driving crashes said they felt “only slightly sleepy” or “not at all sleepy” right before the crash.
Danger Signs for Drowsy Drivers
People do not always recognize when they are sleepy. You may feel awake, but if you are tired you could fall asleep at any time.
If you have any of the following symptoms of sleepiness, pull off the road as soon as possible and find a place to sleep.
- You have trouble keeping your eyes open and focused
- You can’t keep your head up
- You daydream or have wandering, disconnected thoughts
- You yawn frequently or rub your eyes repeatedly
- You find yourself drifting from your lane or tailgating
- You miss signs or drive past your exit
- You feel irritable and restless
- You drift off the road and hit the rumble strips
- You are unable to remember how far you have traveled or what you have recently passed by
Each of us has a specific daily sleep requirement. The average sleep requirement for an adult is approximate 7-8 hours if this amount is not obtained, a sleep debt is created.
All lost sleep accumulates progressively as larger and larger sleep indebtedness. Furthermore, your sleep debt does not go away or spontaneously decrease. The only way to reduce your individual sleep debt is by obtaining extra sleep over and above your daily requirement.
However, in our society we are prone to ignore or resist nature’s signal that we need more sleep, and we often resist far too long. At this point, we cannot resist falling asleep. Depending on when and where this happens, falling asleep can be tragic.
Tips when planning ahead before driving.
- Get adequate and quality sleep before a trip;
- Avoid alcoholic beverages
- On long trips, drivers should eat lightly and avoid large meals and fatty foods.
- Beware of medications that can impair your driving ability;
- Limit long distance driving — stop at least every two hours — and rest;
- Stop at a safe place and take a nap. Wait at least 10 minutes after waking up to see how alert you are. If you don’t feel any more alert, don’t drive. Find a place to sleep for an hour or for the night.
- If possible, drive with a companion and switch driving when necessary. Talk with passengers but not to the point of distraction.
- Keep the temperature cool in your vehicle. Keep your eyes moving and check your mirrors often.
- Avoid caffeine-type drinks like coffee or cola. They provide a short-term boost, however, if you are seriously sleep deprived, no amount of caffeine will help. It’s best to stay off the road.
- If possible, avoid driving during the peak drowsy times — from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. (Circadian Rhythm)
Arriving safely to your destination is always the goal. Your family and friends count on it.