Drivers should heed signs of drowsiness

All drivers know they shouldn’t drink and drive, but not everyone realizes that being sleepy can be just as dangerous. If you’re drowsy behind the wheel, your steering and reaction time can potentially be just as poor as if you’re intoxicated.

“You can lose your ability to see signs, to see clearly, or to make effective decisions,” says Teresa Di Felice, director of driver training for CAA South Central Ontario. “A lot of things are happening on the road, and you might not respond in a timely manner to road conditions and driving.”

A report by Canada’s Traffic Injury Research Foundation found that an estimated 26 per cent of all crashes involving injury or death are due to driver fatigue. Another survey also found that about 60 per cent of Canadian drivers admitted to occasionally driving when they were too tired, while 15 per cent said they had fallen asleep behind the wheel.

Time to pull over

Some of the danger signs include difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open; excessive yawning or blinking; missing traffic signs or exits, or not remembering the last few kilometres you’ve driven; having wandering or disconnected thoughts; drifting out of your lane; feeling restless or irritable; tailgating or hitting the brakes for no reason; or having trouble keeping your head up.

“People just want to get to where they’re going, and they say they’re not going to stop,” Di Felice says. “If you’re on a highway and it’s a monotonous drive, it can (put you) in the mode of being drowsy because you’re not as visually stimulated. And everyone’s so busy and there’s lack of sleep. If you’re falling below that seven to nine hours of recommended sleep for adults, or eight and a half to 10 for teenagers, your mind and body will be tired."

Brake for breaks

On a long drive, it’s recommended that you stop roughly every two hours for a 10-minute break, which you should spend walking around the car and perhaps getting a caffeinated drink or something light to eat, such as a piece of fruit.

If you find you’re just too tired and don’t have anyone who can take the wheel, find a safe place to pull over and nap in the vehicle for 20 to 40 minutes.

Drowsiness can often be more of a problem when you’re closer to home, since the area is familiar and you’re not paying as much attention. You’re also less likely to consider pulling over for a rest if your destination isn’t far away, but if you’re tired, resist the temptation to push through, and take a break to stay safe.

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