Many drivers who would never operate a vehicle while impaired or drive while distracted may inadvertently be taking a significant and possibly life-threatening risk when they get behind the wheel of their car late at night—driving while tired.
A 2012 survey of Canadian motorists found over 18% of respondents indicated that they have fallen asleep or nodded off while driving. A “micro-sleep” where a driver dozes off for four or five seconds can see a vehicle travel hundreds of yards at highway speeds. While common on Canadian roads and highways, driving while tired is a contributing factor in 21% of motor vehicle collisions according to the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators.
Beyond this, driving while sleep deprived can be just as dangerous as driving while under the influence. After being awake for 18 hours, the effect on a driver is the same as having a blood alcohol content of 0.05% and after 20 hours, that increases to a level comparable to 0.08% which is the legal limit for blood alcohol content for a driver. After 24 hours, the level is similar to a blood alcohol content of 0.1%.
Driving while tired:
- Decreases attentiveness
- Slows reaction time
- Negatively affects decision-making
- Can blur vision and decrease depth perception
What are the signs of falling asleep behind the wheel?
There are a few key indicators of drowsy driving:
- Frequent yawning or blinking
- Difficulty remembering some of the journey
- Drifting out of the lane
- Missing an exit or traffic sign
What are the risks?
The risks of driving while sleep-deprived are considerable to yourself and others.
Statistics from Transport Canada indicate that 2.5% of fatal collisions in 2020 were attributable to driver fatigue.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that in 2021, in the United States there were 684 deaths from crashes related to sleep deprivation. Some put the numbers as being far higher due to the lack of information about single-vehicle crashes. A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said the number of fatalities due to drowsy driving could be as high as 6,400 per year.
Myths about ways to stay awake while driving
There are many suggestions that claim to help drivers stay awake and alert while driving, but for the most part they are just myths. Tricks such as turning up the music or opening the windows or putting the air conditioning on high do not work, they just serve to distract the driver from paying attention to the roadway.
Six tips to stay awake behind the wheel
The best way to prevent falling asleep while driving is to have a good night’s sleep but that’s not always possible. Here are five proven and dependable ways to stay alert and awake while driving:
- Pull off the road and rest until you are able to safely operate your vehicle.
- Take a 15-minute break for every two hours of driving.
- Don’t drive alone if possible.
- Avoid alcohol and sedatives.
- Drink a caffeinated beverage.
- If possible, avoid driving during the periods of peak sleepiness which are midnight to 6 a.m., and late afternoon.
Is it illegal to drive while drowsy?
There are laws against drunk driving and distracted driving in Canada, but not for drowsy driving. However, in Alberta in 2020, a man was charged with speeding and dangerous driving for sleeping while behind the wheel of his self-driving Tesla. The RCMP also issued a 24-hour license suspension for fatigue at the time of the incident.
In the United States, only New Jersey and Arkansas have drowsy driving legislation.
What if I’ve been injured by a drowsy driver?
If you’ve been injured in an automobile accident and you believe the other driver was fatigued, it’s best to consult with an injury and insurance lawyer in the province where the collision took place. A lawyer will be familiar with the laws where the incident occurred and can act as your representative when dealing with insurance companies if you seek compensation.
MacGillivray Law is a personal injury law firm with offices in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador. We serve clients all across Canada.
If you cannot travel to one of our offices, we will accommodate your circumstances and travel needs. We can provide a consultation by phone, Zoom, or FaceTime, or travel to meet you in your home when required.
If you would like to learn your legal options at no obligation, contact us today to set up a free consultation.