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. Lock your doors, roll up your windows and take a nap.

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.

Aggressive driving and road rage

Aggressive-driving behaviours, such as tailgating, speeding, failing to yield the right-of-way and cutting in front of someone too closely, may cause other drivers to become frustrated and angry, and lead to a road-rage conflict between drivers. An angry driver may attempt dangerous retaliatory action. Avoid becoming angry on the road by following these tips:

  • Know the warning signs of stress, and combat them by getting fresh air, breathing deeply and slowly, and listening to relaxing music.
  • Make a conscious decision not to take your problems with you when driving.
  • If you are on a long trip, take a break from driving every few hours.
  • Don’t compete with another driver, or retaliate for what you believe to be inconsiderate behaviour.
  • If someone else’s driving annoys you, don’t try to “educate” the person. Leave traffic enforcement to the police.
  • Don’t take other drivers’ mistakes or behaviours personally.
  • Avoid honking your horn at other drivers, unless absolutely necessary. A light tap on the horn is usually sufficient.

Remember that, if you drive responsibly and courteously, you are less likely to spark a road- rage situation.

  • Plan your route in advance. Some of the most erratic and inconsiderate driving occurs when a driver is lost.
  • Drive in a courteous and considerate manner.
  • Yield the right-of-way when it is courteous to do so.
  • Be polite and let other drivers in front of you when they are signalling that they would like to do so.
  • If you make a mistake while driving, indicate that you are sorry. An apology can greatly reduce the risk of conflict.
  • Don’t return aggression. Avoid eye contact and do not gesture back. Keep away from erratic drivers.

If you are in a situation in which you feel threatened by another driver, do the following:

  • Stay in your vehicle and lock the doors.
  • If you have a cell phone, call police.
  • Use your horn and signals to attract attention.
  • If you believe you are being followed, do not drive home. Drive to a police station or a busy public place.

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.

Animals on the road

Crashes involving animals (mainly moose and deer) are a growing problem. You may encounter domestic, farm or wild animals on the road anywhere in Ontario. The number of animals hit by vehicles increased from 7,388 in 1994 to 13,729 in 2003, an 86-percent increase over a 10-year period.

Many areas of the province have animal-crossing signs that warn drivers of the danger of large animals (such as moose, deer or cattle) crossing the road. Be cautious when you see these signs, especially during dusk-to-dawn hours when wild animals are most active.

To reduce your chances of hitting an animal:

  • Reduce speed in darkness, rain and fog. These conditions can impair your ability to see an animal on or near the road.
  • Travel at a safe speed and stay alert. Driver inattention and speed are common factors in animal/vehicle crashes.
  • Scan the road ahead from shoulder to shoulder. If you see an animal on or near the road, slow down and pass carefully, as it may suddenly bolt in front of you.
  • Watch for shining eyes at the roadside. If you do see shining eyes, slow down and be ready to stop.
  • Keep your windshield clean and headlights properly adjusted.
  • Use high beams whenever possible and safe to do so, and scan both sides of the road ahead.

If you see an animal:

  • Slow down and sound your horn.
  • Be alert for other animals that may be with the one you’ve seen.
  • Don’t try to drive around the animal. Animal movements are unpredictable.
  • If you wish to watch an animal, find a safe place to pull completely off the road and park first. Do not park on the shoulder of the road, as other drivers may be distracted by the animal and hit your vehicle.
  • Stay in your vehicle; getting out increases your chance of being hit by another vehicle.
  • If you hit a deer or moose, report it to the local police service or the Ministry of Natural Resources. Do not try to move an injured animal.

Distracted driving

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.

Note: 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.

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 that you must be constantly monitoring your environment and able to take over immediate control of the vehicle.

Tips to reduce driver distractions

  • Attend to personal grooming and plan your route before you leave.
  • Identify and preset your vehicle’s climate control, 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 injury or even death.

Emergency vehicles

Emergency vehicles (police, fire, ambulance and public utility emergency vehicles) are easily identified when responding to an emergency through their use of flashing red lights (police may also use red and blue flashing lights), a siren or bell, or alternating flashes of white light from their headlamp high beams. Also, be aware that police, fire and ambulance services use many different types of vehicles, including bicycles, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, buses and trucks.

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.

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 fire fighters 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.

vehicles pulling over to the right to allow emergency vehicle to pass
Diagram 3-10

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 3-10)

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 both.

allow one lane clearance between your vehicle and the emergency vehicle
Diagram 3-11