Nearly a third of respondents in a recent Insurance Corporation of B.C. survey admitted to having nodded off at the wheel at some point in their lives – an alarming statistic that prompted the insurance provider to issue a reminder for the B.C. Day long weekend.
"That's why we wanted to put it out there: That is staggering to me," ICBC road-safety manager Jill Blacklock said of the number. "The thought that so many people are putting themselves and other people at risk on the road, I think that's what the shock was for me."
In addition, 43 per cent of respondents said they had driven while drowsy in the past year. Actual statistics are likely higher, as driver fatigue is self-reported and therefore underreported, Ms. Blacklock noted: "If somebody is drifting off and drifting over the centre line without a crash, then we don't know it's happening."
ICBC conducted the survey of about 850 ICBC customers in June.
In B.C., driver fatigue typically peaks in the warm summer months of July and August, Ms. Blacklock said. As a result, an average of four people are killed and 83 injured due to fatigue in each of these months. About 17 people are killed and 570 injured due to drowsy drivers every year in B.C., according to the insurance corporation.
Through speaking with provincial and policing partners, ICBC found many of these incidents occurred while people were heading out on, or home from, long-weekend trips.
"[Police] have said, 'When we get to these crashes, it just appears as though it was somebody who either had a big dinner and kept driving, or got up too early in the morning and tried to get ahead of traffic,'" Ms. Blacklock said.
The highest number of driver fatigue-related crashes occurs on Saturdays and Sundays, between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m.
"We typically think of drugs and alcohol causing impairment, but fatigue is equally as dangerous," said Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton in a statement. "Being tired behind the wheel can affect your response time and make steering and staying in your own lane extremely difficult – all of which can put lives at risk."
The insurance corporation is recommending drivers take breaks every two hours and to pull over as soon as they start to feel drowsy. Warning signs include unintentionally crossing into the next lane, yawning or daydreaming and not noticing a vehicle until it passes.
Including other causal factors – such as speeding, impaired driving and undue care and attention – an average of four people are killed and 530 injured in 1,940 crashes throughout the province every B.C. Day long weekend, according to police.
Last year, two fatal motor-vehicle collisions resulted in three deaths over the B.C. Day long weekend. From Aug. 3 to Aug. 6, 2012, B.C. RCMP recommended charges against 1,897 people for speeding, 407 for failing to wear a seat belt and 173 for using an electronic device. Forty-two people received 90-day driving prohibitions for failing roadside screening devices.
The B.C. Ministry of Justice estimates alcohol-related motor-vehicle fatalities to have dropped by about 50 per cent since the introduction of the immediate roadside prohibition program in September, 2010.