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On this month’s Crimecall Garda Adrian Corcoran was in studio to deliver a road safety message in relation to driver fatigue.  Fatigue occurs when a physical and mental impairment brought on by the lack of sleep puts you more at risk of nodding off while driving, therefore increasing the risk of being involved in a collision. 

Adrian highlighted that research has shown that tired drivers are a major road safety risk both to themselves and to others and that driver fatigue could be a contributing factor to 1 in 5 driver deaths in Ireland. 

Tiredness related collisions are 3 times more likely to result in death or serious injury because of the high impact speed and lack of avoiding action.  These collisions tend to occur when our body rhythms are at a natural low point during the early hours of the morning (2am – 6am) and in late afternoon (3pm – 5pm).

A recent survey showed that 28% of motorists in Ireland say they have fallen asleep or nodded off, even if only for a moment while driving. Among people who drive for work, this increased to 33% for people who drive to work, who say they have fallen asleep or nodded off even if only for a moment when driving. 

Risk Factors

Studies have shown that the groups most at risk from driver fatigue are:

  • Ø Young male drivers
  • Ø People working night shifts
  • Ø Those who drive for a living such as commercial drivers
  • Ø People with sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea
  • Ø Medication
  • Ø People suffering from Lack of Sleep

Young male drivers are most commonly involved in sleep related road collisions, but this may be because they are more likely to drive in situations which are likely to lead to fatigue rather than because they are more susceptible to falling asleep at the wheel.

People working night shifts are at risk especially after the first night of a shift cycle when the body has not yet acclimatised to a change in sleep patterns

People who drive for a living such as truck drivers and company car drivers often drive for long hours and drive during the peak times for sleep related collisions.

Those suffering from sleep disorders such as sleep apnoea are at a higher risk of falling asleep while driving. Obstructive sleep apnoea is a disorder that affects 5 – 10% of the adult population and is the most common sleep disorder causing daytime sleepiness. Patients with obstructive sleep apnoea are up to 7 times more likely to have a road traffic collision than the general population as a result of sleepiness. There are effective treatment programmes available for those who suffer from sleep Apnoea.

Some medicines can cause daytime sleepiness. Many of the over the counter treatments for colds, flu and hay-fever, that can be bought without a doctor’s prescription, also cause unwanted sleepiness which might impair driving.

Anybody who is driving and suffering from a lack of sleep is susceptible to falling asleep at the wheel.

What can you do to minimise risk?

If fighting sleep at the wheel, the best action to take is to stop, get a cup of coffee or a caffeinated energy drink and then take a 15-minute nap.

Research shows that the caffeine takes effect about 15 to 20 minutes after drinking it.  Therefore, you should drink the coffee first and when you wake up from your nap you get the double benefit of the sleep and the caffeine as it starts to kick in. That is why the advice is to sip before you sleep. 

Don’t sleep longer than 15 or 20 minutes as you might wake up feeling groggy. It’s a good idea to set the alarm on your phone to prevent over sleeping.

If you have no access to a caffeinated drink, take a nap as this is the most important tactic. Doing this on its own will help significantly. The coffee is a bonus.  If you are planning a journey, keep a caffeinated energy drink in the car, or take a flask of coffee with you.

In cases of extreme tiredness, brought on by sleep deprivation, the only cure for such lack of sleep is sleep.

Don’t be tempted to keep driving when you are tired just because you are close to your destination. Many tiredness related collisions occur within a few minutes of the driver’s destination because they have relaxed and the body takes this as a signal that it is alright to fall asleep.

Tactics such as opening the window, turning up the volume on the radio or going for a walk do not work and no amount of will power will keep you awake.  You should never fight sleep at the wheel.

The advice is STOP - SIP - SLEEP.