1 in 6 Irish motorists have nodded off while driving

The Road Safety Authority has warned of the dangers of driving while fatigued, saying that almost a quarter of drivers in this country have struggled to stay awake behind the wheel.

The findings of a major pan European study conducted in 2018 called the international E-Survey of Road Users’ Attitudes (ESRA), which were presented at the RSA’s Annual Academic Road Safety Lecture, showed that a quarter of drivers in Ireland (23.9%) said they had driven at least once, over the previous month, when they were so tired that they had trouble keeping their eyes open. This is higher than the European average (20%).

A similar national study conducted in Ireland of Driver Attitudes & Behaviour Study by the RSA last year further demonstrated that driver fatigue is a major problem on Ireland’s roads; 16% of the 1,000 motorists surveyed confirmed the more serious fact that they had fallen asleep or nodded off while driving.

The RSA’s lecture, which marks the start of ‘Irish Road Safety Week’, heard insights on the subject of driver fatigue from international and national experts, including Professor Walter McNicholas, Consultant in Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, University College Dublin and St Vincent's Private Hospital; Dr Charles Goldenbeld, SWOV, The Netherlands, and Dr Ashleigh Filtness, Senior Lecturer of Human Factors in Transport Safety, Loughborough University, England.

“The findings of the ESRA study showed a very worrying prevalence of driver fatigue in Ireland, even more worrying when you compare it to the European average,” Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Hildegarde Naughton, said.

“We know that driving while fatigued significantly increases your risk of being involved in a road traffic collision. Just as you wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, don’t drive if you are fatigued. Health experts have been proclaiming the importance of sleep for many years but in the case of road safety, a good night’s sleep might just save your life.”

Liz O’Donnell, Chairperson of the RS, added: “Fatigue is estimated to be a contributory factor in a staggering one in five driver fatalities on Irish roads. That’s a statistic that is sure to jolt you awake and demonstrates why driver fatigue is often referred to as ‘the silent killer’.

“The advice for drivers suffering from fatigue and who find themselves fighting sleep at the wheel is simple. Stop, Sip, Sleep. Pull over safely, drink a caffeinated drink and take a 15-20 minute nap. By the time you restart your journey, the caffeine should have taken effect and you should be able to safely drive for another hour or so. However, you just can’t fight fatigue. The only cure for driver fatigue is sleep.”

Studies have shown that the groups most at risk from driver fatigue are young men, people working night shifts, those who drive for a living such as truck and taxi drivers, and people with sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea.

There are common characteristics of fatigue-related collisions:

- They tend to occur after midnight and in the mid-afternoon, which correspond with the two circadian periods of sleepiness and lowered performance.

- They often involve a single vehicle leaving the roadway.

- They occur more often on high speed roads.

- Tired drivers are less likely to take evasive action to avoid crashes.

- Tired drivers are usually alone in their vehicle.

The RSA is seeking support for its national drive to save lives during Irish Road Safety Week (IRSW), which takes place from today Monday, October 5 to Sunday, October 11 with numerous road safety activities planned nationwide.

The RSA will be working with the Applegreen chain of service stations on the Driver Reviver campaign, providing free cups of coffee to motorists across the October Bank Holiday. The campaign, which has been running for three years, is specifically aimed at those holiday periods when people are typically driving longer distances, often on straight open roads such as motorways where fatigue crashes are more likely to occur. Selected Applegreen forecourts will be providing free cups of coffee to drivers between 2pm and 8pm on Friday and Monday of the Bank Holiday weekend.