Fatigue is a problem on our roads, for sure. But if you were to believe the media, the bureaucrats, and the politicians, even the police it seems, only truck drivers get tired. Now there’s a crock if I ever heard one.
I’ve been thinking about all of this — and examining my own four-wheel-driving attitudes — since Lorraine Kerr of Wyoming, Ont., wrote to me asking what I thought about her husband’s recent highway accident. Minding his own business, and trying to drive defensively, he was whacked on Highway 401 in western Ontario by an American woman who’d been at the wheel for 24 hours straight.
And despite admitting to the police that she’d fallen asleep at the wheel, she was apparently allowed to continue her trip. As Lorraine quite rightly says, had the tables been turned, had it been her husband who’d been rolling for all that time, he’d be in very deep crap.
But the thing is, when we’re driving a car, many of us seem to feel it’s almost heroic to keep going for very long stretches indeed. I have to admit that I’ve bragged about routinely driving Toronto to Halifax without stopping. I’ve done it many times. And often I do the return trip just three days later, again without a rest stop. It’s a 21-hour run, depending on weather and how long, if at all, I stop to eat. I might leave Wednesday morning, arrive early on Thursday, and then leave again Saturday afternoon, getting home before dark on Sunday. Which gives me two nights of sleep, and probably short nights at that, in four days — maybe 12 hours on the pillow in a 94-hour stretch.
I really don’t feel so bad when I pull up at home, but that’s clearly way too little sleep. Not even close to enough. And you’d think, after all I’ve read and written about sleep deprivation over the years, that I’d know better. I can’t possibly be sharp enough to drive a car well, especially on that return trip, even if I feel otherwise.
And if I’m attending a convention or researching stories while I’m in Nova Scotia, is my head clear enough to listen and absorb effectively? Am I a fully functional guy? I’ve always thought so, but the more I examine this, the less likely it seems to be.
Forgetting life in your truck, how often do you pull an all-nighter in your car? I’d bet that a lot of you treat four-wheel time differently. In your truck you’ll make an effort to stay legal, but it won’t even occur to you if you’re in that “little” Chevy of yours.
So why do we do that? Do we instinctively figure that the calamity quotient of a car is so much less than a truck’s ability to cause death and destruction that being tired on four wheels matters less? Or is it simply that there are no rules, no logbooks, when we’re in a car? Without a law and thus without the risk of a fine, what’s the incentive to park it after 10 or 12 hours?
I should think it’s a bit of both, but who needs reminding that a car is awfully dangerous in the wrong hands, or tired ones?
Well, the people who need reminding are the civilian types. Professional truck drivers have a different skill set, a much better one, and they also have an instinct about the road that the vast majority of four-wheelers just wouldn’t understand. Truckers should know better than to drive tired, but car drivers have no reference point here, no training, no appreciation of the problem.
Tachographs and logbooks and the like have no place in cars, obviously, so it’s left to education. Starting in high school, where driving ought to be a compulsory subject in my opinion. It could just be classroom theory at that point, maybe even a credit course, with costly practical experience left for driving schools per se, and we’d all be better off as a result. There’s more than enough to teach, and more than enough need to teach it. Kids would then arrive at the driving school door with some background, some knowledge that could then be applied behind the actual wheel. And naturally, part of that foundation knowledge would be an appreciation of fatigue and the associated risks.
Four-wheeler fatigue, thankfully, is getting some serious attention in the United States and Great Britain, and it deserves to become an issue here, too. I know of at least one policeman who’s very concerned about it. He’s especially worried about ever longer commuting times in the Toronto area, where many people are chasing cheaper real-estate prices an hour-and-a-half or two hours out of town. In rush-hour traffic, that’s a draining drive, all the more so if you try to have a life by cutting back on sleep time. A nasty combo.
For my part, I’m going to stop being quite so cavalier about how I drive my car. And when I drive it.