Driving tired potentially as risky as driving drunk: Highway Safety Roundtable

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PEMBROKE, ON, May 10, 2006 – If you are over-tired, you are impaired. Please don’t drive. That’s the message from the Highway Safety Roundtable as it launches Canada’s first national Fatigue Impairment Awareness Day and its new Web site, www.fatigueimpairment.ca.

The purpose of the launch, taking place at the Pembroke Mall this morning, is to raise awareness about the dangers of driving while fatigued, and to provide information and resources to help prevent deaths and injuries caused by fatigue impairment. In addition to the Web site, a series of public service announcements will be available at no charge to radio stations across the country to help educate Canadians about the dangers of drowsy driving.

“We’ve all driven when feeling tired or sleepy, but the fact is that drowsy drivers put themselves and other road users at risk,” says Mark Yakabuski, representing Canada’s home, car and business insurers on the Roundtable. “Just like alcohol, fatigue affects our ability to drive by slowing reaction time, decreasing awareness and impairing judgment. Too many Canadians think that just because they haven’t been drinking, they are OK to drive. But if you are over-tired, it can be just like being drunk behind the wheel.”

The potential dangers associated with falling asleep behind the wheel seem obvious. Yet, many who would never drink and drive think nothing of hitting the road when they’re exhausted. An alarming 20% of Canadians admit to falling asleep at the wheel at least once over the last year.(1)

Studies also suggest fatigue is a factor in about 15% of motor vehicle collisions, resulting in approximately 400 deaths and 2,100 serious injuries every year.(2)

Fatigue can be caused by too few hours of sleep, interrupted or fragmented sleep, or chronic sleep debt (lost hours of sleep that accumulate over time). Other factors contributing to driver fatigue include the amount of time spent on the road, time of day, undiagnosed sleep disorders, and the use of medications or alcohol.

Tell-tale signs that you may be too tired to drive include loss of concentration, drowsiness, yawning, slow reactions, sore or tired eyes, boredom, feeling irritable and restless, missing road signs, difficulty in staying in the right lane, and nodding off. Shift workers and teenagers are especially susceptible. Drivers experiencing these symptoms are encouraged to pull safely over to the side of the road and stop for a nap.

Yakabuski admits that there is no simple solution to the problem of driver fatigue, but stresses the benefits of education and urges Canadians to visit the new Web site. He points out that someone who has not slept for 18 hours is as impaired as someone with a .05 blood alcohol level (for which, in most provinces, police can take away your driver’s license for 12 to 24 hours). Police cannot lay charges for fatigue impairment, but that is no reason to put your safety at risk, he adds.

To date, there are few programs in Canada to counter drowsy driving. In contrast, the United Kingdom and Australia have been running public service announcements and educational programs since 1999. The Highway Safety Roundtable would like to see Canadian jurisdictions take a more proactive role.

The Highway Safety Roundtable is composed of the Brewers of Canada, Canada Safety Council, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Automobile Association, Canada’s home, car and business insurers, Railway Association of Canada, and Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

(1) Traffic Injury Research Foundation (2005)
(2) Transport Canada Collision (2004 data), CCMTA Strategy 2004