Blog The Dangers Falling Asleep While Driving And Drowsy Driving Laws

Jul 27, 2021

How To Prevent Fatigued Driving

Man Driving When Tired And Drinking Coffee

Many of us are guilty of drowsy driving. We’re tired after a long day at work. We drive home late at night after a busy day. Some of you may even drive for a living.

People don’t take driving while drowsy as seriously as impaired or distracted driving. Is it the lack of attention on the subject?

It’s estimated that 50% of drivers have gotten behind the wheel when feeling drowsy. It is reported that 20% of people have fallen asleep at the wheel. Of that, 1 in 25 drivers say that they have fallen asleep behind the wheel in the last month. The fact is that drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as impaired driving or texting and driving.

Drivers underestimate the effects of driving while tired. Here we take a look at this important driving safety topic and outline the dangers of drowsy driving, laws, facts, methods for prevention and how it can impact car insurance costs.

What Is Drowsy Driving?

Drowsy driving, also referred to as tired driving or fatigued driving, is the operation of a vehicle when you are too tired to remain alert behind the wheel. Driving while tired impacts your ability to focus impairs your decision-making, and can impact your ability to react.

It is estimated that approximately 20% of fatal collisions in Canada involve driver fatigue. That’s 1 in 5 collisions. Many other non-fatal collisions involve drivers who exhibit the signs of drowsy driving.

Why Is Drowsy Driving Dangerous?

Driving while tired impacts your ability to drive. Even though driving tired is responsible for a significant amount of accidents, it does not receive as much attention of impaired driving in Ontario.

Here are some reasons why driving while fatigued is dangerous because :

  • Slower reaction time : A well-rested normal functioning adult brain has a physical reaction time of under 0.2 seconds. Depending on the level of exhaustion you are in, that number could double, or more.
  • Decision making : People can be more impulsive and less rational when they are sleep deprived. Being tired while driving could lead to road rage and poor judgment (racing a yellow instead of waiting).
  • Lack of ability to focus : Coordination, motor skills, and your attention to detail diminishes when you are tired. You need to have clear logical reasoning and processing behind the wheel.
  • Vision and depth perception : Along with slower reaction times, your vision can get blurry and sensitive to light when you are tired. It may be harder to tell how far away other cars are from you.

Drowsy Driving Laws In Canada

There are severe consequences for driving tired, but is it illegal?

There are currently no specific laws related to driving while tired in Canada. However, the impact of driving while tired can cause you to take actions on the road that are punishable by law.

Even though the dangers are well documented, it is not against the law to drive while tired. However, it is strongly discouraged. The government has invested in legislative acts and awareness campaigns in an attempt to educate drivers about the dangers of fatigued driving.

What Are The Warning Signs Of Tired Driving?

Woman Falling Asleep While Driving

Drivers don’t think twice about feeling extremely tired while driving. They press on instead of taking a break on long drives, and many drive when they should be resting.

Since there is no test for drowsy driving, it can be difficult to know when you are too tired to drive. But there are warning signs to indicate when you should consider taking a break or not driving.

Here are the common warning signs that you may be too tired to drive :

  • Yawning frequently
  • Heavy eyelids and head nodding
  • Trouble keeping your eyes open
  • Trouble focusing
  • Wandering thoughts
  • Trouble remembering the last few kilometres driven
  • Missing a road sign or exit

How Does Lack Of Sleep Affect Driving?

According to a Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police report, 20% of fatal collisions are caused by drowsy drivers. Here are some of the effects of drowsy driving on your ability to drive :

  • Drifting out of your lane : Veering in and out of your lane. Trouble staying in your lane.
  • Missed exits : Missing turns.
  • Road signs : Missing stop signs, traffic lights and other traffic signs.
  • Inconsistent speed : Speed continuously increasing and decreasing.
  • Speeding : Driving above the speed limit. Failure to adjust speed to speed limits.
  • Stopping issues : Sudden braking and stopping close to other vehicles.

If you experience any of these signs, consider taking a break, switching drivers, or getting some sleep before driving.

Who Is Most Likely To Drive Drowsy?

There are various reasons and specific groups of driving who are more prone to driving tired.

Here are the types of drivers who are at higher risk than others :

  • Poor sleep habits : People who do not get enough sleep tend to have issues focusing.
  • Professional drivers : People who drive for a living, such as commercial drivers, spend long hours on the road.
  • Shift workers : Working odd hours can impact tiredness.
  • Sleep disorders : People with sleep disorders regularly operate tired.
  • Medication : People on medication may experience sudden drowsiness.
  • Adults with children at home : Parents often have a sleep deficit.

Drowsy Driving vs. Drunk Driving

Just how dangerous is drowsy driving? Many experts suggest driving while tired can have the same or similar impairment effect as alcohol.

According to the National Sleep Foundation :

“Drowsy driving is dangerous because sleep deprivation can have similar effects on your body as drinking alcohol. Being awake for 18 hours straight makes you drive like you have a blood-alcohol level of .05 (for reference, .08 is considered drunk). If you’ve been awake for a full 24 hours and drive—say, after a night where you just couldn’t fall asleep—it’s like you have a blood-alcohol level of .10.”

Both types of impairment make it difficult for drivers to focus on driving and negatively impact the speed and accuracy of a driver’s decision-making capabilities.

Drowsy Driving Facts

Not convinced driving while tired is a serious road safety issue? Check out these drowsy driving stats and facts :

  • Drowsy driving is related to at least 100,000 motor vehicle crashes and more than 1,500 deaths per year in the U.S. alone.
  • 1 in 3 drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel. Of those who have nodded off, .13% said they do so at least once per month.
  • 15% of Canadian drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year.
  • 72.3% of Ontario drivers have taken to the roads while fatigued.
  • Men are more likely to drive drowsy than women.
  • Adults 18-29 are more likely to drive drowsy.

Drowsy Driving Safety Tips

Feeling tired while driving happens. Here are some things you can do to stay safe and focused :

  • Take a break : Pull over at the next rest stop, get out of the car, stretch your legs, and re-focus.
  • Take a nap : Pull over where it’s safe and have a 30-minute nap to recharge.
  • Switch drivers : Taking turns driving will help both drivers stay fresh and alert.
  • Get a cup of coffee : It will provide you with a good short term burst of energy.
  • Keep cool : Keep the temperature cool in your vehicle.
  • Keep moving : Move your eyes and check your mirrors regularly.

Ineffective Tactics To Stay Awake While Driving

People will try almost anything to stay awake while driving. Rather than stopping and taking a break, they will try other ineffective tactics. The following do NOT work to keep you awake when driving :

  • Opening the windows
  • Cranking the air conditioner
  • Turning up the music or singing
  • Taking energy stimulants (these have short term effects)

10 Tips To Prevent Drowsy Driving

Being proactive is the key to avoiding driving while fatigued. These steps can help ensure you are alert and ready to drive. Here are some tips to prevent driving tired :

  1. Get a full night’s sleep : Make sure you get 7 or more hours of sleep before a long drive.
  2. Plan your road trip effectively : Plan out rest stops and travel so you can take frequent breaks. If you are going on a road trip, make sure you are getting a good sleep before you hit the road.
  3. Listen to your body : If you are feeling really tired, reconsider driving.
  4. Avoid anything that makes you tired : Avoid medications, alcohol, food and drinks that make you sluggish or tired.
  5. Stop regularly : Take frequent rest stops every couple of hours.
  6. Avoid driving late at night : If possible, avoid driving during times when you would normally be sleeping.
  7. Drive with a companion : Have someone to drive with that can take over the wheel and keep up with conversation.
  8. Take a nap before driving : If you have a long drive ahead of you, take a nap beforehand.
  9. Eat smart : Drinking water and having light snacks during your trip will help keep you energized.
  10. Speak to your doctor : If you are getting a full nights sleep but are still drowsy during the day, ask you doctor if you should be evaluated for a sleep disorder.

You play a key role in keeping our roads safe. If you feel the effects of drowsy driving, pull over and take a break.

What Is The North American Fatigue Management Program?

If you are a commercial driver or work in the transportation industry, you may be interested in the North American Fatigue Management Program (NAFM). This tool launched in 2013 to help carriers develop fatigue management programs. Their goal is to enhance a carrier’s ability to effectively deal with the challenges of fatigue in a highly competitive, widely dispersed, and rapidly changing industry.

This free resource consisting of ten learning modules covering a range of topics, including :

  • Developing a culture of safety
  • Fatigue management education
  • Risk identification

Drowsy Driving FAQs

You may get tired when driving if you have specific medication, shift work, alcohol, not having a good sleep or because of an untreated sleep disorder

It is not illegal to drive drowsy. There is no testing tool to assess a driver’s level of tiredness. But there are still repercussions such as accidents which can lead to increased car insurance quotes.

Around 20% of Canadians admit to falling asleep behind the wheel, at least once in the year. Drowsy driving contributes to 21% of automobile accidents every year.

Fatigue driving is when the driver, after prolonged periods of continuous driving, experiences mental and physical malfunctions. If you don’t have a good sleep at the night, even a short period of driving can still cause fatigue driving.