The Hidden Dangers of Summer Driving

Summer time and the living is easy. Barbeques, outdoor fun, and sunny weekends fill our off-work hours. The words tired and impatient don’t come into the picture—or do they?

According to Jimmy Sandhu, safety advisor at SafetyDriven – Trucking Safety Council of BC,
fatigue and frustration can be real hazards for drivers in the summer season.

“It’s easy for anyone to feel like they can get more work done and/or be out late with friends/family,” he explains. “But being out too late the night before a shift can cause fatigue, which is a form of impairment. This can limit their driving ability, including reaction times, decision making, and lane positioning.”

There is no doubt that driving drowsy is a leading cause of motor vehicle crashes. The Canadian government’s Road Safety in Canada report states: “It is estimated that about 20% of fatal collisions involve driver fatigue….about 60% of Canadian drivers admitted that they occasionally drove while fatigued and 15% of respondents admitted that they had fallen asleep while driving during the past year.”
Sleep Well To Stay Healthy,” a 2018 post on SafetyDriven’s blog, indicates that: “Sleep deprivation, fatigue and drowsiness contribute to trucking accidents on BC roads every year.”

Although the connection between fatigue and dangerous driving is clear, many drivers may not recognize just how the long days of summer can contribute to the problem. Sandhu says that people naturally want to pack more into their days when the sun isn’t setting until 8 or 9 pm.

“Some drivers may feel more energized as the sun is out longer during the summer months,” says Sandhu. “Drivers need to manage this workload and not neglect the impact it can have on their driving ability, especially when they factor in their personal lives.”

Road Safety in Canada lists the following warning signs of driver fatigue:
• blinking or yawning frequently;
• closing eyes for a moment or going out of focus;• having wandering or disconnected thoughts;
• realizing that you have slowed down unintentionally;
• braking too late;
• not being able to remember driving the last few kilometers; and
• drifting over the centre line onto the other side of the road.

SafetyDriven provides links to many related resources on their Fatigue Management page, including blog posts, posters, videos, templates, podcasts, and an employer resource toolkit.

Being tired also won’t help a driver’s ability to cope with the stresses of summer traffic. Roads are busier in the summer and full of people driving vehicles they may not use in the winter, such as bicycles, motorcycles, RVs, and trailers.

“How many people are currently cleaning up their trailer, which has been parked since last summer or longer?” from blog post “Summer Safety.” “Some don’t even own a trailer or motorhome, so they are exploring rentals for that once in a lifetime holiday….Any day now…they are going to pull onto the road right in front of you. They have no experience dealing with how much longer, wider, or differently that unit will handle compared to their car.”

The increased traffic and poor drivers can exasperate professional drivers. After all, they are on the road four seasons a year, earning a living. They’re trying to keep to a schedule, not on some leisurely holiday.

“Exercising patience is much easier said than done,” says Sandhu. “It seems every driver on the road during the summer months is in a hurry.”

For example, when traffic is heavy and cars keep cutting in front, tailgating can seem like the only way to get anywhere. However, rear-end collisions are extremely common and often result in injury and even death.

“It’s tempting for a commercial vehicle driver to keep a close distance with the vehicle in front to minimize the number of vehicles changing lanes directly in front of them. But while commercial vehicle drivers may be more successful in minimizing the number of vehicles jumping in front of them, they still run a greater risk of rear-ending another vehicle.”

The Insurance Corporation of BC considers following too closely to be a high-risk driving behaviour. It is a choice that some drivers make. The SafetyDriven blog post “Accident or Collision?” puts the case:

“If you purposely decide to speed because you’re running late, that’s a choice you’ve made. If you crash because of the speeding, that’s no accident….The crash was a direct result of a decision you made. The same could be said if you rear-ended another vehicle because you were following too closely.”

Avoiding high-risk behaviours such as tailgating is easier if you can stay calm and patient, even in the face of summer traffic frustrations. “How patient are you behind the wheel?” a blog post on The Safe Driver website, points out: “Being patient in traffic not only helps you keep your blood pressure down, but also helps you make more logical choices while behind the wheel. You have so much to gain while staying patient behind the wheel and so much to lose if you don’t, but it’s up to you to make these changes.”

Get your sleep and keep your cool in the summer months and you’ll wind up a better driver—all year round.

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