Asleep at the wheel: One in five drivers nods off while driving, poll finds: TIRF

Ottawa, March 8, 2005 � A startling 4.1 million Canadians admit to nodding off or falling asleep at the wheel at least once in the past 12 months, according to the findings from the 4th annual Road Safety Monitor (RSM) released today by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF). The survey focused on the practices, knowledge and concern among Canadians about the issue of drowsy driving.

Despite the disturbing number of Canadians nodding off at the wheel, the survey of 1,200 Canadians showed that only 57% of respondents believe this is a serious road safety issue.

Road safety experts have only recently recognized the potential significance of drowsy driving. In the United States, the National Highway Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving is responsible for 100,000 crashes, 40,000 injuries, and 1,550 deaths annually. In Canada, fatigue is listed as a causal or contributing factor for over 2,000 drivers involved in fatal or injury crashes.

�Forty-four percent of respondents indicated they had only been driving an hour when they nodded off, and 35% fell asleep while driving in the afternoon,� said Dr. Doug Beirness, Vice President of Research, TIRF. �These findings challenge commonly held perceptions that drowsy driving is more common after long periods of time at the wheel and that it almost always happens late at night.�

In fact, only a quarter of those admitting to having fallen asleep at the wheel had been driving for 2 to 3 hours and only 30% had been driving for 4 or more hours. The Road Safety Monitor found that fewer hours of sleep at night and poor quality of sleep are the more important factors in determining the likelihood of falling asleep at the wheel.

Other findings include:

  • Male drivers are more likely than female drivers to have nodded off;

  • Younger drivers tend to fall asleep at the wheel late at night, while older drivers are nodding off at the wheel in the afternoon;

  • 35% of drivers between ages 20 and 24 report nodding off or falling asleep while driving in the past year; only 6% of drivers 65 years of age and over report doing so;

  • Falling asleep at the wheel most commonly occurs late at night and in the afternoon;

  • Drivers who report nodding off while driving also report getting less than 8 hours sleep per night, rate the quality of their sleep as �poor�, and experience greater daytime sleepiness; and

  • The most commonly reported actions to help drivers remain alert was �pulling over to take a break or have a nap�, �open a window�, �drink coffee�, �turn the radio on loud�, and �change drivers�.

TIRF hopes the findings from this and future Road Safety Monitors will be used to guide program development and policy decisions. The Foundation remains committed to making the roads a safer place across Canada.

The primary sponsors of the 4th annual Road Safety Monitor are the Brewers of Canada, The Railway Association of Canada, Toyota Canada Inc. and Transport Canada. Additional support comes from the Canada Safety Council.

For a complete copy of the RSM, please visit

About the Traffic Injury Research Foundation

Established in 1964, TIRF designs, promotes and implements effective programs and policies, based on sound research. TIRF’s mission is to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries. TIRF is a registered charity and depends on grants, contracts, and donations to provide services for the public. TIRF is headquartered in Ottawa.