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What you Should Know About Fatigued (Sleepy) Drivers

Similar to the way drinking driving emerged as a road safety issue 30 years ago, impairment by fatigue, or drowsy driving, is fast becoming a major concern in North America. It can be just as deadly as drinking and driving or unsafe speed.

Sleep and fatigue often leave no clues for investigators to trace. Unlike alcohol-related crashes, no blood, breath, or other test is currently available to determine levels of sleepiness at the time of a crash. This leaves investigators with little hard data on which to base a conclusion of fatigue or sleep as a cause or contributing factor.

Despite the data limitations, estimates say that about five per cent of fatal crashes are firmly established as being caused by drowsy driving.

Experts suggest the actual number may be as high as 20 per cent to 40 per cent. And that makes drowsy driving as dangerous as drinking and driving, which accounts for approximately 24 per cent of all victims in vehicle fatalities.

sleepy driverCharacteristics of fatigue-related crashes

  • Usually occur during late night/early morning or late afternoon.
  • A single vehicle, driver is alone and drives off the road (but also a factor in rear-end and head-on crashes).
  • No skid marks, brake lights, horn sounded, or other evidence the driver tried to avoid the crash.
  • The crash occurs on a high-speed road, usually a highway in non-urban areas where more long distance night time driving occurs.
  • The crash is likely to be serious, usually due to the high speeds involved combined with delayed (if any) reaction time.

Although no driver is immune, three groups are at highest risk:

  1. Younger people ages 16–29 years, especially males. A combination of lifestyle factors such as schoolwork demands, part-time jobs, extracurricular activities and late-night socializing.
  2. Shift workers whose sleep is disrupted by working at night or working long or irregular hours.
  3. People with untreated or unrecognized sleep apnea syndrome (SAS) or narcolepsy (sudden onset of brief attacks of daytime deep sleep, or micro-sleeps).

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