Similar to the way drinking and driving emerged as a road safety issue, impairment by fatigue, or drowsy driving is fast becoming a major concern worldwide. It can be just as deadly as drinking and driving, or unsafe speed.
According to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), sleep and fatigue often leave no clues for investigators to trace. Unlike alcohol-related crashes, no blood, breath, or other test is currently available to determine levels of sleepiness at the time of a crash. This leaves investigators with little hard data on which to base a conclusion of fatigue or sleep as a cause or contributing factor.
Despite the data limitations, the TSB estimates about 5% of fatal crashes are firmly established as being caused by drowsy driving. Experts suggest the actual number may be as high as 20% to 40%. And that makes drowsy driving as dangerous as drinking and driving, which accounts for approximately 24% of all victims in vehicle fatalities.
Although no driver is immune, 3 groups are at highest risk:
1. Younger people ages 16-29 years, especially males. A combination of lifestyle factors such as schoolwork demands, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities and late-night socialising.
2. Shift workers whose sleep is disrupted by working at night or working long or irregular hours.
3. People with untreated or unrecognised sleep apnea syndrome (SAS) or narcolepsy (sudden onset of brief attacks of daytime deep sleep, or micro-sleeps).
The Warning Signs
You’re becoming impaired by fatigue if you experience some of these characteristics:
What Drivers Can Do
The problem with fatigue is that it slowly develops and drivers often don’t realise they’re too tired to drive safely. Once fatigue sets in, there is little you can do about it except stop driving as soon as possible. Physical activity, loud music, opening a window or eating might provide a short boost of energy, but these really only mask fatigue. When drivers return to sit still and perform repetitive tasks such as driving, sleep returns quickly.
Plan to Drive Refreshed and Alert