Most Canadians would never consider driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Since elementary school, we’ve been taught that doing so puts yourself and others at significant risk of catastrophic injury or death. Recently, road safety advocates, law enforcement officials, and car accident lawyers have worked to emphasize the dangers of distracted driving as well. But what about “drowsy driving,” or driving while over-tired?
According to the American National Sleep Foundation, operating a vehicle after being awake for 18 hours straight is equivalent to driving with a blood alcohol level of .05; 24 hours of wakefulness is equivalent to .10. In Ontario, the legal blood alcohol limit is .08.
Unfortunately, there is little public awareness of the dangers of drowsy driving. Chronic fatigue is a fact of life for many Canadians who struggle to find a balance between work, family, and recreation. But data from Australia, England, Finland, and several other European countries suggests that between 10 and 30 per cent of all automotive accidents are caused by drowsy driving. In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that driver fatigue causes 100,000 crashes, 71,000 injuries, 1,550 deaths, and $12.5-billion in monetary damages each year.
Car accident lawyers know that the injuries caused by drowsy driving are no less severe than those caused by drunk or distracted driving, yet no wide-spread publicity campaign against drowsy driving exists. With that in mind, what can be done to prevent drowsy driving accidents on an individual level?
The most critical and effectual way to avoid drowsy driving accidents is also the most obvious: get enough rest. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has said that “people who sleep six to seven hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in … a crash as those sleeping 8 hours or more, while people sleeping less than 5 hours increased their risk four to five times.” Skip a social activity, take a personal day from work, start an effective bedtime routine, and generally take whatever steps are necessary to catch up on rest when you’re feeling overly fatigued.
It’s also important for fatigued individuals not to rely too heavily on caffeine to get them through their morning or afternoon commute. While a strong coffee or energy drink may give you a temporary boost, the effects will not last.
If you’re on the road and find yourself feeling particularly fatigued, don’t be afraid to pull over and close your eyes for a few minutes. Approximately 30 per cent of American drivers admit to falling asleep at the wheel at some point; a power nap can help you avoid this potentially catastrophic scenario. However, good car accident lawyers will warn you to choose your resting spot wisely – a parking lot or shoulder of a quiet road works better than alongside a busy highway.