Road safety experts are warning motorists about the dangers of driver fatigue as it emerged one-in-four Irish drivers say they have trouble keeping their eyes open and struggle to stay awake while driving.
In a major international study — the E-Survey of Road Users’ Attitudes (ESRA) — released today, some 23.9% of Irish respondents said they had driven while tired, and then struggled to keep their eyes open on at least one occasion over the previous month.
The Irish figure is higher than the 20% average seen in other European countries.
A similar national study of driver attitudes and behaviour, conducted in Ireland by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) last year showed a further 16% of 1,000 Irish drivers confirmed they had, at least once, fallen asleep while driving.
Driver fatigue is believed to be a major cause of accidents and deaths on Irish roads.
These new figures were released today to coincide with the commencement of the RSA's Irish Road Safety Week.
Professor Walter McNicholas (@UCDMedicine ) is discussing driver fatigue now and makes the following observations on “Those suffering from sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea and insomnia are at a higher risk of falling asleep while driving..." 1/— RSA Ireland (@RSAIreland) October 5, 2020
Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Hildegarde Naughton said the findings of the ESRA study were "worrying".
She said: "We know that driving while fatigued significantly increases your risk of being involved in a road traffic collision.
"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," she added.
While no concrete evidence on the topic exists, it is estimated that fatigue and tiredness are contributory factors in roughly 20% of road fatalities in Ireland.
Studies from here and abroad have shown that young male drivers, people working night shifts, those who drive for a living, such as truck and taxi drivers, and people with sleep disorders like sleep apnoea are most at-risk from driving while fatigued.
Common characteristics of fatigue-related collisions include:
- They tend to occur after midnight and in the mid-afternoon, which correspond with the two circadian (body clock) 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.
Liz O’Donnell, chairperson of the RSA said the findings demonstrate why driver fatigue is often referred to as a "silent killer".
She said: "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," she added.