Drunk, Drugged, Distracted & DROWSY

Brought to you by YD’s Director of Research, Charles Shrybman. 

Drowsy driving is one of the four Ds – drunk, drugged, distracted and drowsy – of impaired driving which has received the least public attention.  This is in part a result of two things. The first is the fact that it has been very difficult to find clear evidence of the extent of the problem. Unless the driver actually fell asleep at the wheel, world police have not been trained to report a collision as fatigue related.   The second is that the extent of the drowsy driving problem has been underestimated for years.

Leading researchers estimate that drowsy driving and driver fatigue could be a factor in 20 percent or more of serious collisions. A frame by frame analysis of video of drivers during one to three minutes leading up to 701 collisions was done by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. This revealed that the drivers were drowsy in 8.8% to 9.5% of collisions. In the more serious collisions in which property damage was extensive, airbags deployed or injury occurred, drowsiness was evident in 10.6% to 10.8% of these incidents. In these cases, eyelids were closed more than 80% or closed to the point that the pupils were covered. They did not include cases where driver fatigue may simply have led to inattention and/or delayed reactions to urgent developments.

In fact, another study that analyzed crash data found that 26.4% of all fatal and injury crashes in Ontario (excluding property damage collisions) are fatigue-related.[1] 

In a survey done by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, 18.5% of Canadians reported falling asleep at the wheel in the previous 12 months. In the same survey, 14% of respondents admitted to driving often when they were fatigued. 

Who Is At Risk?

According to an expert panel of the National Center on Sleep Disorder Research and of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, three groups are particularly at risk. The first two, shift workers and those suffering from untreated sleep apnea and other sleep disorders come as no surprise. It is the third group that may surprise many. It is young people between the ages of 16 and 29, especially males. In fact, it was this demographic that accounted for roughly two thirds of drowsy driving crashes according to one study in the U.S.

Insufficient sleep, less than 7 hours, as well as fragmented sleep, as well as the consumption of any alcohol, increases the dangers from drowsy driving.


People have tried all sorts of things to improve alertness while they are drowsy.  Some will help them feel more alert momentarily. The danger is that, just as when you go to sleep at night, you are not aware the moment you are falling asleep – or you would not be asleep. The only countermeasure that has been shown to be effective for drowsy drivers is actually getting some sleep. So, if you notice you are drowsy to find a safe place to get some sleep immediately. Doing anything else is playing with dynamite.

[1] Fatal and Injury Fatigue-Related Crashes on Ontario’s Roads: A 5-Year Review, Yoassry Elzohairy, MTO, May 2007