Tired drivers as deadly as drunks

Vancouver: British Columbia’s new drinking and driving laws have been making the headlines clear across Canada.

There has been a drop in the number of impaired drivers and, because of the harsh penalties, most people seem to be paying attention. Fewer drunks on our roads are good; actually, it’s great.

So think for a moment about the evidence pointing towards how a fatigued driver acts behind the wheel: nodding off, wandering attention, over correction on the steering wheel after drifting in a lane, glazed vision -all are the same types of behaviour an impaired exhibits and you clearly see how tired drivers are as dangerous as impaired ones.

Last week, while driving my police vehicle south on Main Street, I came to a line of stopped vehicles at a minor intersection. At first I thought the cars were stopped for a pedestrian, but when no pedestrian appeared I figured the remaining one lane of cars was stopped by a driver waiting to turn left. But when the ample opportunity for the left turn was not taken, I manoeuvred my police vehicle around all the stopped ones and pulled up alongside the first car. I was dismayed to see the driver of the car appeared to be suffering a medical emergency: his head was back, his mouth was slack and his hands were limp beside him. I rushed out of my car and ran around to his window but as I came close to his window, I stopped. The driver was not having a heart attack; he was fast asleep and snoring to beat the devil!

A short time later, after being checked by an ambulance to rule out any possible medical reason as to the man’s sudden departure into dreamland, I had arranged alternate arrangements for the driver. Why was he sleeping? He hadn’t meant to fall asleep at the wheel, obviously, but he was suffering from a cold and was suffering from jet lag after a recent return trip from another time zone. He was very apologetic when I explained that driving while exhausted is as dangerous as driving while impaired and he headed home to get some much needed shut-eye.

There is nothing wrong with delaying a trip, or pulling to the side of the road to grab a few zee’s (in a safe place, of course), or having someone else drive if you are too tired to get behind the wheel.

The consequences of driving tired can be deadly. I almost lost a family member a few years back when he fell asleep on the Coquihalla Highway. His truck hit the gravel shoulder, snapping him awake, and he over-corrected in an effort to pull his truck out of its sideways slide. The attempt was not successful and his truck flipped several times before coming to rest on its roof in the ditch.

Somehow, he was able to crawl out of the wreckage with only a single laceration to his temple. He was alive and was going to be okay, but when that RCMP police car pulled to a stop in front of his mother’s place we didn’t know that yet. All we knew that he was late and the sight of the police car just about took my breath away. I remember being in a flat-out sprint to find out what was wrong and being relieved to hear that he was about to be released from the hospital.

Other families have not been so lucky. So please, if you are tired, don’t drive.

Vancouver police constable Sandra Glendinning blogs at behindtheblueline.ca . Her opinions aren’t necessarily those of the city’s police department or board.

Photograph by: Lorraine Hjalte, Calgary Herald