Driver Fatigue and Road Accidents in B.C.

Driver fatigue is a problem that routinely plagues Canadian roads. A 2007 survey on road safety found that about 60 percent of Canadian drivers admitted that they occasionally drove while fatigued, and a further 15 percent of respondents admitted that they had fallen asleep while driving during the past year. These numbers are extremely troubling.

Fatigued or drowsy driving can take the form of physical and/or mental fatigue and occur as a result of the monotony or repetitiveness of the driving environment or after driving for extended periods without a break. In some cases, the fatigue is a function of the human body’s natural circadian rhythm or “sleep-wake” cycle. Most people feel sleepy twice a day (at night and in the afternoon). Drivers that operate a vehicle during these times are more likely to feel drowsy and can be at higher risk of causing a road accident or car accident.

Driving while extremely tired is just as dangerous as any of other type of distracted or impaired driving.  While there isn’t the same social stigma for allowing a person to drive while tired, there is certainly the same amount of risks. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep can be akin to driving while intoxicated. For example, after being awake for 18 hours, you would suffer from a level of impairment that is equal to having a blood alcohol level of .05%.  If you were to stay awake for 24 hours, the impairment to your body would be is equal to having a .1% blood alcohol level.

Impaired Driving Enforcement

 The main focus of impaired driving crackdowns by law enforcement has been for driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or for texting while driving. However, driver fatigue is also treated as a form of distracted driving or impaired driving, when attributing fault in accidents, if the driver has been reckless.

There is no law specifically prohibiting driving while fatigued. There are other offences, however, that the police can use to address the reckless and negligent actions of a drowsy or fatigued driver who gets on the road and causes an accident.  If a fatigued driver is operating the vehicle at an inconsistent speed, frequently changing lanes, weaving, not respecting road signs and traffic control devices, braking suddenly, or speeding erratically, a variety of charges can be laid.

In some cases, a driver could be charged with dangerous driving, impaired driving, or criminal negligence under the Criminal Code of Canada. Police officers have the discretion to choose whether to lay a charge for a federal offence, a provincial (regulatory) offence, give a warning, or help a driver arrange alternate transportation. In many cases, however, the potential outcome of significant fatigue is an accident and not a traffic stop.

The potential penalties are being used because driver fatigue has just as serious of an impact on the safety of the motorist as other forms of impaired driving.  According to a Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators study published by Transport Canada, 20% of fatal accidents in Canada are related to driver fatigue. In B.C., driver fatigue-related crashes peak in the summer months, with an average of three people killed and 81 injured in July and August respectively. The majority of these crashes occur on Saturdays and Sundays from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Where the victims of a motor vehicle accident survive an accident, many injuries can result. The injuries from an impaired-driving crash can include: concussions and other traumatic brain injuries, whiplash and other neck and spinal cord injuries, nerve damage, broken bones, damage to internal organs, soft tissues, muscles or skin, and crush injuries or amputations.

Managing Fatigue

There are ways to ensure that fatigue is not putting you, your passengers and other road users at risk. For starters, you must always remember that driving while you are tired can be just as dangerous as drunk driving, so forcing yourself to drive when you are tired is not worth the risk of an accident.

It is also important that you can recognize the signs of fatigue in yourself or in another’s driving if you are a passenger. Keep an eye for warning signs such as blinking or yawning frequently, closing your eyes for a moment or going out of focus, having wandering or disconnected thoughts, losing time and not remembering the past few minutes. Other common signs of driver fatigue are drifting over the center line or hitting the curbs, suddenly realizing that you have slowed down unintentionally, and braking too late for other cars or road signs.

To lower the risk of fatigue related collisions, consider taking periodic breaks when driving long distances, especially while driving late at night. You should also plan to go to bed early the night before driving a long distance, share the driving with a passenger, take regular rest stops every couple of hours and drink water, do some exercise and eat light meals while at the rest stops.

Speak to a Personal Injury Lawyer Today

If you were injured by a driver who was drowsy or fatigued and caused an accident, speak to a personal injury lawyer at Taylor & Blair Personal Injury Lawyers. These types of claims can be extremely complex and difficult, as often it is hard to prove that a driver caused an accident due to drowsiness or fatigue. However, at Taylor and Blair, our car accident lawyers have dealt with these types of claims before. We are experienced personal injuries lawyers with lower mainland offices in Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby, Port Coquitlam, North Vancouver and Vancouver BC. Our legal team will investigate the details of your car accident and may rely on expert evidence. We will discuss your options for legal recourse and compensation. Speak to a lawyer at 604-737-6900 before contacting Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC).