Driver fatigue

The holidays rhyme with long road trips. Here are a few pieces of advice to avoid nodding off while driving.

You can fight, change position, open the window, turn up the music, drink one more coffee, but fatigue hits you at the very moment you are supposed to be driving and that fight can be fatal if you don’t do the right thing.

If you are driving tired, you are driving impaired and it is responsible for 22.7% of fatal accidents and 20.5% of accidents with injuries on Canadian roads. In 40% of fatigue-related accidents, the driver was awake for over 17 hours.

It is at that critical point that concentration and reflexes begin to decline dramatically. As soon as your alertness decreases, your perception is distorted. When facing a situation where you will have to react quickly, you will do it inappropriately or too late.


Episodes during which we nod – what we call micro-sleep – last a few seconds or a few minutes and we are not often aware of it. In fact, micro-sleep occurs when our eyes are open but we don’t react to stimulation. We won’t see, for example, that the light is red or if there is a curve ahead.

Risk factors
  • A sleep debt or what we call an accumulation of fatigue. A sleep debt of five hours will have the same effect as two or three glasses of wine.
  • You have been awake for 17 hours or more when you take the wheel. After 19 hours of wakefulness, your reaction time is 50% slower.
  • You slept 6 hours or less in the past 24 hours.
  • You have more than one job.
  • You suffer from sleep disorders.
  • The moment of the day: most people experience the first decrease in alertness and increased sleepiness between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and a second between midnight an dawn.
  • Consuming drugs, alcohol or medication before driving causes drowsiness.
Fatigue impairment: the signs 
  • You yawn often;
  • Your eyes are itchy;
  • Your eyelids close involuntarily;
  • You find it hard to maintain constant speed and trajectory;
  • Your reactions are slower;
  • You have blackouts, for example, you don’t remember the last kilometers;
  • You have hallucinations (especially where there is fog). For example, you can see animals on the road when there are none.
Avoid fatigue hazards
  • Plan pauses every two hours to move (walk or stretch).
  • Keep the sleepy hours in mind when planning a trip. For example, avoid crossing a traffic spot around 2 p.m.
  • When you feel tired, take a nap. Fifteen minutes are enough to give you a good dose of energy. This energy will last longer than the one you will get from a coffee, a snack, opening the window, readjusting your seat or changing position.
  • If possible, avoid driving during your normal sleep hours.
  • Reduce your speed. Driving fast makes you process a lot of information in very little time and can cause fatigue.
  • Reduce the dashboard lighting, remove objects from the dashboard so that they can’t reflect in the windshield and regularly clean the mirrors and windshield to avoid eyestrain.
  • Avoid alcohol before driving.

Before a longer road trip, get a good night of sleep for at least eight hours… because, after all, sleep is the only cure for fatigue!

Image de Josée Descôteaux

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