Driver yawns while behind the wheelIf you're like 15 per cent of Canadians, you admit you've fallen asleep at the wheel within the past year. Transport Canada estimates that driver fatigue plays a role in about 20 per cent of fatal collisions in the country. In Ontario, that number is estimated to be even higher, at 26 per cent. Add it all up, and these numbers indicate a serious problem with driver fatigue on the road.

A new slew of mobile apps and systems aim to fight exhaustion by helping people understand their fatigue levels. Could these apps play a role in making our roads safer?

First, it's important to recognize the red flags. If you experience any of the following symptoms while driving it's recommended you take a break; pull over to a safe place to do some stretches or to take a quick power nap. Even a 10 to 20 minute nap can restore alertness for up to a couple of hours.

Warning Signs of Driver Fatigue

  • Repeated yawning
  • Drifting in and out of lanes
  • Memory lapses
  • Delayed reactions-including braking
  • Difficulty maintaining speeds
  • Forgetting driving basics such as checking mirrors
  • Missing exits

Apps to Understand Your Sleep Cycle

The best way to prevent driving while fatigued is to ensure you're getting adequate sleep. One of the easiest ways to do this is by understanding your sleep cycle. Humans cycle through various phases of sleep and some of us perform better at certain levels than others. Sleep apps such as Sleep Cycle monitor your sleeping patterns and wake you up when you are in your lightest phase of sleep, the most natural way to wake up in the morning. By taking advantage of apps like this, drivers can begin to understand how many hours of sleep they need to fully function. They will also wake up at a time when they are more likely to feel alert and well-rested.

DriveSafe - Google Glass

DriveSafe is a Google Glass app currently in beta mode. It works by alerting the driver to pull over to a safe place when it detects that eyes are getting heavy. As more novel technologies hit the market, drivers need to be aware of the potential consequences of engaging with these devices and applications while driving-even when using them with the intention of making the roads safer. For example, using Google Glass while driving is technically illegal in Ontario under the province's current distracted driving laws.

Be Wary of Apps That Could Be Distracting

Numerous innovative new apps are hitting the market with the intention of helping drivers maintain alertness, but it's important to not let these apps become additional distractions on the road.

The Anti-Sleep Pilotis an app that calculates driver response time and uses it to recommend when drivers should take a break. It works by administering a series of touchscreen-based tests that are designed to keep you focused on the road, and then it uses this data to calculate your fatigue level and alert you when you're too tired to drive. Although this app has the right idea, using it in Ontario and many other parts of Canada could violate distracted driving laws and land you a ticket. A general rule of thumb: if you need an app to tell you when you're too fatigued to drive, you're probably too fatigued to drive.

Fatigued Driving In the Workplace

Driver fatigue is also an issue in the workforce. Caterpillar, the leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, reported that driver fatigue is one of the main causes of accidents involving earth-moving equipment such as bulldozers and excavators.

An Australian company has developed a highly-advanced eye-tracking system that uses cameras, GPS, in-vehicle computers, accelerometers, and infrared light sources to detect when a driver's eyes stay closed for longer than 1.6 seconds. Anything longer than that and an alarm goes off in the truck, combining noise and seat vibrations. If it happens again, a dispatcher is notified so that the driver's company can check in to make sure they're okay. A third time indicates the driver should be removed from duty.

The company has plans to eventually move this technology into the consumer realm including the automotive industry, long-haul truck drivers, and airline operators.

Avoiding Accidents

Even without these technological innovations, there are a few things you can do to prevent accidents and avoid driving while fatigued:

  • Only drive when you're rested
  • Keep your mind alert by paying attention to what is happening around you and keeping your eyes on the road
  • If you start to feel drowsy, find a safe place to pullover
  • Avoid eating things that make you tired including sugary and fatty foods and drinks before driving or during a trip. Stick to water and high-protein snacks
  • If you're going on long drives with at least one other person, take turns driving
  • Drive safely and obey the laws

Remember: Driving while fatigued counts as impaired driving and you could face the same charges as someone driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Don't risk causing an accident or having your auto insurance premiums increased as a result. Drive defensively and drive alert.

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