British Columbia

Awake at the wheel: how to stay fresh, spot signs of fatigue on long summer road trips

As summer road-trip season ramps up, ICBC's road safety manager Mark Milner offers a refresher on what drivers should be watching out for when travelling for long periods of time.

ICBC's Mark Milner says most people don't realize the signs of tiredness when they're driving

Milner says that driving while overtired is technically impairment and that it's up to drivers to recognize the warning signs and take a break if needed. (Matt Meuse/CBC)

Summer for many means vacation time, which can often lead to long drives to get to those favourite swimming, camping and hiking spots.

But a crash on the Coquihalla Highway this past weekend is a reminder of the dangers of driving while tired. 

A family of five was travelling south of Merritt, when the father fell asleep at the wheel while passing a semi-trailer. He hit the truck and his vehicle rolled, causing all five members of the family to require hospital treatment.

Mark Milner, road safety manager with ICBC, says that people need to understand the risks of driving tired.

"Part of the problem is that being sleepy like that is a form of impairment and it tends to impair our judgement, and so we tend to try to push on further then we should," Milner said.

Warning signs 

Milner says people should be aware of the signs of drowsiness.

"If you find that a vehicle passes you and you had no idea it was there, it just suddenly shows up beside you, that's a clue that you might be getting tired," he said.

Other warning signs include:

  • Finding yourself snapping in and out of focus;
  • Finding it difficult to focus on the road;
  • Having trouble keeping to one speed; 
  • Having trouble keeping your lane position.

"Those are all signs that you are becoming too tired and that you really need to find a place to pull over and possibly take a nap," Milner told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.


Although there are laws against impaired and distracted driving, Milner says outlawing driving while tired wouldn't work.

"I don't think it's necessarily something that can be prevented by the law," he said.

"It's really something that drivers need to take responsibility for themselves."

Milner's top tips for avoiding tiredness at the wheel are:

  • plan trips and stops ahead of time;
  • only drive during hours you would normally be awake;
  • get a good sleep the night before a long trip;
  • stay hydrated.

Driving through B.C.'s mountainous terrain can also cause people to become tired faster, Milner says.

"ICBC and the government have been putting money into installing rumble strips, edge barriers, central median barriers, to prevent those kinds of crashes that occur from people falling asleep behind the wheel," he said.

Listen to the full interview with Mark Milner:

With files from The Early Edition

Read more from CBC British Columbia


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