Dec. 8th, 2011
By: Shaun de Jager
In a recently published survey by the AAA, 32% of all drivers surveyed admitted that they have driven while so tired they could barely keep their eyes open. This is pretty disturbing since the 2010 studies findings showed that 16.5% of all road fatalities and 13.1% of all hospitalizations from crashes were a direct consequence of driving while drowsy.
According to the study, young drivers between the ages of 16-24, were far more likely to be involved in a ‘drowsy driving’ crash than people between the ages of 40-59. Road crashes are already the number one cause of teenage fatalities worldwide and fatigue may be more of a factor in many of those fatalities than previously realized.
Crashes involving drowsy drivers can be especially violent because when they are startled, they tend to drastically overreact, resulting with them abruptly swerving (into other vehicles, guardrails or resulting in them leaving the road entirely).
Driving while sleepy is much like drinking and driving. Your judgement, reflexes, and awareness are drastically impaired and so is your vision. Similar to having a few drinks, you may feel fine when you first climb behind the wheel but you are not aware that your judgment is already impaired due to fatigue. What you can notice is when your eye-lids start getting heavy and you notice that you’re having a hard time keeping your eyes open. That’s when you need to park somewhere and have a power nap. Even as little as 15-30min of rest can dramatically improve your ability behind the wheel and you are far more likely to make it home safely.
“Drinking and driving or driving while drowsy will both impair your driving” say PC Hugh Smith from Toronto Police Services and he gives the best and most simple advice “Stop driving if you feel sleepy”.
A few years ago, I was doing a late night drive home along a very long, straight and essentially boring and deserted stretch of highway with only the occasional other vehicle on the road. A transport truck caught my attention as I slowly caught up to it, I noticed the driver slowly drifting out of their lane or onto the shoulder and back again. Alarms went off in my head…he’s asleep! I thought to myself “what do I do about this?” and all I could think was to flash my high beams and hope the driver woke up without getting spooked and crashing. There was a bend in the road ahead and it seemed clear that the driver wouldn’t see it coming and crash anyway so I had to try. Well it worked and the driver regained control of his rig successfully negotiating the corner. I decided to stay behind him and keep an eye on him. Although I suspected he had fallen asleep, I wasn’t positive. He could have just been a sloppy driver. Until a few minutes later when he started drifting out of his lane again.
This would have been a good time to call the police but my phone was out of my reach. One thing was certain though…this driver needed to get off the road before having a massive crash. I flashed my high beams several times and once again the truck driver started driving normally again. The only thing waking this driver up was either my high beams flashing in his mirrors or when he brushed the gravel shoulder. As far as I was concerned…this was a wreck waiting to happen. Not wanting to be a part of it, I kept my distance and found once again that I had to wake up this sleepy driver by flashing my high beams. Thankfully, he finally realized that he needed to pull over and have a nap. We were just about to pass an inspection station and although he missed the entrance, he pulled to the shoulder and parked at the exit from the inspection station. Nap time for this driver. I’m sure his family and employer will never know how close this driver came to crashing that night.