A very tragic accident resulted when a Vancouver woman fell asleep while driving, then missed a bend in the road and drove through a parking lot, where her vehicle struck two children. One of the children was injured and the other child was killed. A similarly catastrophic accident occurred in Toronto, involving a young woman who fell asleep at the wheel while driving on Highway 401; her car then drove onto the shoulder of the highway and rear-ended a parked vehicle, resulting in the deaths of two men who were occupants of the parked car.
Drowsy driving is a factor in about one out of five fatal crashes, according to an American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation study. Further, drivers who get one or two hours less than the recommended seven hours of sleep are almost twice as likely to crash. This is a significant concern since about 35 per cent of drivers get less than seven hours of sleep daily, as reported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even more dangerous are drivers who miss more than one to two hours sleep in a 24-hour period. The latest AAA research reveals that under these circumstances, the risk of crashing quadruples compared to someone with seven or more hours’ sleep. In fact, a driver with less than five hours’ sleep has the same likelihood of crashing as a drunk driver. Not surprisingly, the crash risk continues to increase the smaller the amount of sleep we get, such that there is 11.5 times the risk of crashing for someone who gets less than four hours of sleep.
Clearly, sleep-deprived driving is a real threat to the safety of everyone on the road. Alarmingly, in an AAA Foundation survey, almost one third of the drivers surveyed admitted that at least once in the preceding month, they had difficulty keeping their eyes open while driving. Even when drowsiness does not result in falling asleep behind the wheel, a sleep-deprived driver has a diminished capability to react and make good decisions.
Common symptoms of drowsy driving include: yawning and blinking repeatedly, drifting in and out of lanes, not remembering what occurred in the last kilometers of your drive, difficulty keeping our eyes open, and general inattention to the road and other drivers. For drivers who were involved in crashes resulting from fatigue, more than half were not aware of any symptoms before they fell asleep behind the wheel. This statistic points to a need to ensure that we get sufficient sleep every day, particularly before longer drives, as we cannot assume that our body will provide a warning sign before we fall asleep at the wheel or before inattention results in a crash.
In addition to getting enough sleep, the following safety tips are recommended for longer trips.
- Travel at a time when you’re normally awake
- Take a break every two hours or every 150-200 kilometers
- Eat snacks during the drive but avoid heavy foods that induce sleepiness
- Travel with a passenger who is alert, and take turns driving
- Don’t take medications that induce drowsiness, and don't drink alcohol
Of course, getting a sufficient amount of sleep isn’t only important for driving; it affects everything we do, including our ability to work effectively, interact positively in social situations, and our ability to learn. And, for many people, even seven hours isn’t a sufficient amount of sleep. People need different amounts of sleep in order to feel well rested and alert. Generally, seven to nine hours is considered the healthy range for daily sleep requirements. For individuals who need nine hours of sleep, their driving abilities may, in fact, be negatively impacted with only seven hours.
In general, the more we work, the less we sleep, so people with particularly challenging jobs and work schedules need to make a more concerted effort to ensure that they get the sleep they need, particularly if they drive to work. However, developing good and regular sleep habits is important for everyone and allows us to avoid putting ourselves, our loved ones and all other road users at risk due to drowsy driving.
If you were injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by a negligent driver and would like to claim damages for your injury and losses, call a knowledgeable Toronto car accident lawyer to find out about your legal rights in the matter and what you can expect from the claims process.