Man leaning head on stering wheel

How to prevent fatigue when driving

Examining the signs and issues, and tips on making Ontario roads safer

Keeping our roads safe is a priority. This is why there are government initiatives, programs and media campaigns dedicated to making our roads as safe as possible.

Discussions about road safety tend to focus on issues such as impaired and distracted driving, and how health conditions can impact someone’s ability to drive, but the risks associated with drowsy driving often get overlooked. Everyone drives when they are tired, right? After all, don’t we do most tasks when we are tired these days?

As with other tasks, a lack of sleep can seriously affect your driving skills. It’s a bigger issue than most people realize, and many tend to underestimate the impact that a lack of sleep can have on someone’s ability to make decisions while driving. According to, “studies show that being awake for more than 20 hours results in an impairment equal to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%.”

Since most drivers underestimate the importance of sleep and its impact on our ability to drive, we tend to overestimate our driving skills when we are tired. Even though many drivers admit they are tired when driving, many don’t think that being tired is a bigissue, but the statistics about driving while tired show that this is not something that should be overlooked.

A report published by the National Sleep Foundation states that “approximately 100,000 police-reported crashes annually (about 1.5% of all crashes) involve drowsiness/fatigue as a principal causal factor. A conservative estimate of related fatalities is 1,500 annually or 4% of all traffic crash fatalities. At least 71,000 people are injured in fall-asleep crashes each year.” The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that crashes due to fatigue result in $12.5 billion in annual losses.

The issue with preventing fatigue when driving

Unlike impaired driving, there is no test to determine a person’s level of sleepiness, leaving it up to drivers to determine whether they are okay to drive. How do you determine your level of tiredness? Is it the number of hours of sleep you had the previous night?

Determining your ability to drive and your level of fatigue needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Many people function well on 5 hours of sleep per night, while other people need their 8 hours of rest.

Before you drive, ask yourself the following questions to determine your level of tiredness:

  • How many hours of sleep did I get last night?
  • Do I feel well-rested?
  • How far do I need to drive? Am I confident I can drive this length considering how I feel?
  • How likely am I to become fatigued when driving?
  • Will fatigue will be an issue, possibly impacting my ability to drive safely?

Impact of driving while fatigued

Driving when you are tired is dangerous and can reduce your ability to:

  • Pay attention
  • Maintain your focus
  • React to other drivers and driving situations
  • Make intelligent driving decisions
  • Stay awake

Signs of drowsiness and fatigue

Self-assessment is the most-effective way to determine whether you are rested enough to drive safely. Part of this assessment is understanding the warning signs and symptoms of tiredness. If you notice any of the following signs, it may be a good idea to rest before driving, or if you are already on the road, it is a good idea to take a break:

  • Overwhelming feeling of tiredness
  • Trouble keeping your eyes open
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Making errors in judgment
  • Trouble concentrating and having wandering thoughts
  • Excessive yawning
  • Uncharacteristic driving behaviour, such as missing a stop sign or swerving
  • Being forgetful and having trouble remembering the last few minutes of driving
  • Having issues judging depth

Who is most at risk?

Certain groups of drivers are at greatest risk of drowsy driving, including:

  • Shift workers
  • Commercial drivers, primarily long-haul drivers (15% of truck crashes are a result of fatigue)
  • People using medication that has drowsiness as a side effect
  • People with undiagnosed medical issues and sleep disorders
  • Young drivers
  • Individuals travelling for business

Tips to prevent fatigue while driving

Here are some tips to help make sure you are energized and alert when driving:

  1. Get a good night’s sleep the night before driving a long distance.
  2. For long-distance trips, alternate driving duties with another driver.
  3. Take frequent breaks – at least once every two hours. This will give you a physical and mental break.
  4. If you are feeling tired before driving, take a short nap before getting behind the wheel.
  5. Drink a coffee.
  6. Maintain good posture at all times. This will prevent your neck, shoulder and back muscles from getting tired.
  7. Keep the temperature low in your car. Heat tends to make people feel tired.
  8. Wear sunglasses to reduce strain and prevent premature eye fatigue.
  9. Avoid taking over-the-counter or prescribed medications that could cause drowsiness.

Know your body, understand the signs of tiredness and avoid driving if you think fatigue will impair your ability to drive safely. We can all take steps to be more conscious and safe drivers.