Drowsy Driving: The Dangers & Laws in Canada
The rumble strip on the shoulder jars you to attention and, jolted with adrenaline, you swerve back into your lane.
Did you fall asleep for a second?
Many drivers have asked themselves this question.
The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators reports that drowsiness factors into 21% of car accidents in Canada. Looking at that statistic, it’s easy to see that this issue is as problematic as impaired driving or driving with a smartphone in your hand.
Canada is getting ready for one of the busiest summers on the roadways. COVID-19 travel advisories and restrictions have brought air travel to its knees, and Canadians will travel by car more often than in previous years.
Last summer, nearly half of Canadians planned at least one road trip for pleasure, and that can be expected again in 2021.
As the weather gets warmer, more Canadians will take advantage of the vast network of highways to reach their destinations. With this substantial increase, more instances of fatigued driving are all but assured.
The dangers of driving while fatigued
Whether you’re enduring long hours in the office, lengthy commutes, overnight road trips, or crying babies keeping you up at night, you should never get into the driver’s seat when you’re struggling to stay awake. And not just because you might fall asleep at the wheel; driving while tired can severely diminish your driving ability.
Your reaction time is slower
Your decision-making suffers
You lose focus
Your vision can be affected
The normal physical reaction time for a rested, normal-functioning adult brain is a little under 0.2 seconds. Although it varies from person to person, reaction time increases based on the level of exhaustion you’re experiencing.
Research by the National Institutes of Health has found that people make more impulsive and less rational decisions when they’re sleep-deprived. For example, your level of tiredness could be the difference between deciding to gun it through a yellow light at an intersection or patiently stopping and waiting for a green light.
When you’re tired, your attention diminishes and it’s easier to get confused. Your logical reasoning and complex thought processes go downhill – both of which you need for safe driving.
Not only do your reaction times slow down, but your vision can get blurry and your eyes can become sensitive to light. Sleep deprivation temporarily affects your depth perception too. How far is that car ahead of you? It can be hard to tell when you’re tired.
Is it illegal to drive while fatigued?
The consequences of driving while you’re drowsy or sleep-deprived can be deadly. But is it illegal?
Since it’s hard to prove that a driver is sleep-deprived, you don’t see many instances of penalties for that infraction. But it is possible. For example, in the case of the B.C. man who was caught sleeping at the wheel of his self-driving Tesla, he received a 24-hour license suspension for fatigue, among other charges (more on this below).
Fatigue or no fatigue, if you’re responsible for an accident or your driving behaviour is deemed reckless, you could be held liable in either civil or criminal court, or both. Charges can range from distracted driving to criminal negligence.
Can you sleep in a self-driving car?
It’s important to clarify a common misconception: no car in Canada is a self-driving car.
Some cars are becoming more autonomous, emerging with systems like Cadillac’s Super Cruise and Tesla’s Autopilot. However, that doesn’t mean you can recline all the way back for a quick siesta. We’ve all heard stories of people sleeping behind the wheel of their high-tech vehicle. But while these advanced driver assistance systems can handle some basic driving tasks, drivers are legally required to be focused on the road at all times when their car is in motion.
Case in point (as mentioned above), the B.C. man who was charged with dangerous driving between Calgary and Edmonton in a Tesla Model S while he and his passenger were reclined and asleep.
Transport Canada stated that “these technologies assist drivers, but do not replace them.”
Best practices if you’re driving tired
If you find yourself faced with the decision of whether to drive while fatigued or not, we have a few tips for you:
- Let someone else drive: If another legal driver in your group is feeling alert, toss them the keys instead. That goes for short trips, too.
- Take a break: Most major highways have rest stops where you can pull over safely, take a walk, or even take a nap.
- Stay cool: To stay alert, keep the internal temperature of your car nice and cool. Open the window for a fresh blast of cold air.
- Snack right: Sugary snacks and soda might give you a quick spike of energy, but it won’t help your alertness over long distances. Opt for more nutritious snacks and stay hydrated with water for a more sustainable jolt of energy. Do not snack while driving.
The dangers of drowsy driving are very real; avoid it at all costs. It’s always better to get there safely than on time.