Drowsy driving

Drowsiness has been identified as a causal factor in a growing number of collisions resulting in injury and fatality. Tired drivers can be as impaired as drunk drivers. They have a slower reaction time and are less alert.

Studies have shown that collisions involving drowsiness tend to occur during late night/early morning hours (between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.) or late afternoon (between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.). Studies also indicate that shift workers, people with undiagnosed or untreated sleep disorders, and commercial vehicle operators are at greater risk for such collisions.

Always avoid driving when you are feeling drowsy. Scientific research confirms that you can fall asleep without actually being aware of it. Here are eight important warning signs that your drowsiness is serious enough to place you at risk:

  • You have difficulty keeping your eyes open.
  • Your head keeps tilting forward despite your efforts to keep your eyes on the road.
  • Your mind keeps wandering and you can’t seem to concentrate.
  • You yawn frequently.
  • You can’t remember details about the last few kilometres you have travelled.
  • You are missing traffic lights and signals.
  • Your vehicle drifts into the next lane and you have to jerk it back into your lane.
  • You have drifted off the road and narrowly avoided a crash.

If you have one of these symptoms, you may be in danger of falling asleep. Pull off the road and park your vehicle in a safe, secure place. Use well-lit rest stops or truck stops on busy roads. Stimulants are never a substitute for sleep. Drinks containing caffeine can help you feel more alert, but if you are sleep deprived, the effects wear off quickly. The same is true of turning up the volume of your radio or CD player and opening the window. You cannot trick your body into staying awake; you need to sleep. Remember, the only safe driver is a well-rested, alert driver.

Workers on the road

Be extra careful when driving through construction zones and areas where people are working on or near the road.

When approaching a construction zone, proceed with caution and obey all warning signs, people and/or devices that are directing traffic through the area. Often, lower-speed limits are posted to increase worker safety and reflect increased road hazards, such as construction vehicles in the area, uneven or gravel surfaces, narrowed lanes and so on. In a construction zone, drive carefully and adjust your driving to suit the conditions. Do not change lanes, be ready for sudden stops and watch for workers and related construction vehicles and equipment on the road.

Other types of workers and vehicles may also be present on the road and pose a hazard, such as roadside assistance and disabled vehicles, surveyors, road maintenance or utility workers. Always slow down and pass with caution to prevent a collision. If safe to do so, move over a lane to increase the space between your vehicle and the hazard.

Traffic-control workers direct vehicle traffic in work zones and prevent conflicts between construc­tion activity and traffic. Whether you are driving during the day or at night, watch for traffic-control people and follow their instructions.

Treat people working on roads with respect, and be patient if traffic is delayed. Sometimes traffic in one direction must wait while vehicles from the other direction pass through a detour. If your lane is blocked and no one is directing traffic, yield to the driver coming from the opposite direction. When the way is clear, move slowly and carefully around the obstacle.

Recent changes to the Highway Traffic Act have resulted in doubled fines for speeding in a construction zone when workers are present. It is also an offence to disobey STOP or SLOW signs displayed by a traffic-control person or firefighter.

Animals on the road

You may come upon farm animals or wild animals on the road, especially in farming areas and in the northern parts of the province. Animal-crossing signs warn drivers where there is a known danger of moose, deer or cattle stepping onto the road, but animals may appear anywhere. Always be alert for animals and ready to react.

Look well ahead. At night, use your high beams where possible. When you see an animal, brake or slow down if you can without risk to vehicles behind you. If there is no traffic and no danger of colliding with any other object, steer around the animal, staying in control of your vehicle.

In some areas of the province, horse-drawn carriages may use the road. Be prepared to share the road with them.

Distracted driving

Commercial passenger-vehicle and school-bus drivers need to be aware of potential situations that may distract them from driving. Some distractions occur outside the bus, such as police activity, collisions, scenery or road construction.

Drivers can also be distracted by situations inside the vehicle. In particular, school-bus drivers deal with high levels of noise and activity. If a driver has to take his or her eyes off the road in order to address a behavioural issue, there is a greater risk of collision.

Even if your vehicle has driver-assistance features, you can be charged with distracted, careless or dangerous driving. You are still expected to be in care and control of your vehicle, which means you must be constantly monitoring your environment and able to take over immediate control of the vehicle.

Driving while using non-hands-free cellular phones and viewing display screens unrelated to driving is prohibited, and drivers will face fines and other penalties. In addition, drivers can be charged with careless driving or even dangerous driving (a criminal offence) if they do not pay full attention to the driving task.

Commercial drivers have a permanent exemption for the use of a two-way radio, provided the microphone is securely mounted to the vehicle within easy reach of the driver. This allows the driver to press and hold the microphone button to talk and release to listen.

Note: Bus and transit drivers have been provided with a temporary exemption allowing them to use hand-held, two-way radios until January 1, 2021.

Remember to focus on your driving at all times. A split-second distraction behind the wheel can result in injury or even death.

Tips to reduce driver distractions

  • Attend to personal grooming and plan your route before you leave.
  • Identify and preset your vehicle’s climate control, radio and CD player and audio settings.
  • Make it a habit to pull over and park to use your cell phone, or have a passenger take the call or let it go to voice mail.
  • Put reading material away if you are tempted to read.
  • Do not engage in emotional or complex conversations. Stress can affect your driving performance.
  • When you are hungry or thirsty, take a break from driving.

Remember to focus on your driving at all times. A split-second distraction behind the wheel can result in a collision.

Emergency vehicles

Emergency vehicles include fire and police department vehicles, ambulances and public-utility emergency vehicles.

Reacting to an approaching emergency vehicle

When you see red or red and blue flashing lights, or hear the bells or sirens of an emergency vehicle approaching from either direction, you must immediately slow down, move as far to the right side of the roadway as you can, and stop.

Illustration of a bus driver reacting to an approaching emergency vehicle
Diagram 3-1

Stay alert. When you see an approaching emergency vehicle with its lights or siren on, prepare to clear the way.

  • React quickly but calmly. Don’t slam on the brakes or pull over suddenly. Use your signals to alert other drivers you intend to pull over.
  • Check your rearview mirrors. Look in front and on both sides of your vehicle. Allow other vehicles to also pull over. Pull to the right and gradually come to a stop.
  • Wait for the emergency vehicle to pass and watch for other emergency vehicles that may be responding to the same call. Check to make sure the way is clear and signal before merging back into traffic.
  • Don’t drive on or block the shoulder on freeways. Emergency vehicles will use the shoulder of the road if all lanes are blocked.

Never follow or try to outrun an emergency vehicle. It is illegal to follow within 150 metres of a fire vehicle or ambulance responding to a call in any lane going in the same direction.

Failing to pull over and stop for an approaching emergency vehicle can result in a conviction and a fine.

Note: Some firefighters and volunteer med­ical responders may display a flashing green light when using their own vehicles to respond to a fire or medical emergency. Please yield the right-of-way to help them reach the emergency quickly and safely.

Take lights and sirens seriously. Clear the way! Pull to the right and stop. It’s the law.

Reacting to a stopped emergency vehicle or tow truck

When you see an emergency vehicle stopped with its red, or red and blue, flashing lights or a stopped tow truck with its amber lights flashing in a lane or on the shoulder in your direction of travel, you must slow down and pass with caution. If the road has two or more lanes, you must move over into another lane to allow one lane clear­ance between your vehicle and the emergency vehicle, if it can be done safely. (See Diagram 3-2)

Illustration of a railway crossing with flashing lights
Diagram 3-2

Failing to follow these rules can result in a conviction, demerit points on your driving record, a driver’s-licence suspension of up to two years and a fine of $400 to $2,000 for a first offence, and $1,000 to $4,000 for a subse­quent offence (a “subsequent” offence is when you are convicted again within five years). The court can order you to spend up to six months in jail, or you may have to pay a fine or do both.


By the end of this section, you should know:

  • How to recognize the signs and dangers of drowsy driving
  • How to manoeuvre your vehicle through construction zones
  • What to do if you encounter animals on the road
  • Things that may distract you when driving and how to minimize those distractions
  • What to do when you encounter an emergency vehicle