Saturday 3 December 2016

Why it can be lethal to ignore the signs of driver fatigue

* Our Road Safety Authority expert this week outlines the dangers of nodding off at the wheel

Published 15/07/2015 | 02:30

Tiredness is probably a factor in one-in-five fatalities on Irish roads
Tiredness is probably a factor in one-in-five fatalities on Irish roads

I am writing this at 3am on a Thursday night. No, I don't suffer from insomnia.

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I'm sitting on a location bus, on a closed road, in an industrial estate in Greystones. We are on the shoot of a new TV ad we're making to raise awareness of driver fatigue. It's the silent killer on our road.

That's the downside of making an ad about tired drivers. We have to film at night, we need all the hours of darkness we can get to ensure we bag all the shots we need.

As a small group of us sit in a huddle around a TV monitor on the set to review the footage on playback, the yawns are going around like a Mexican wave. Boy do I have a new-found respect for anyone working nights.

After a good strong coffee, and during a lull in filming, I decide what better time to write about the danger of driving while tired.

It's been a long time coming, but finally we are getting around to tackling the issue of driver fatigue with a major campaign.

The new ad is called 'Signs' - so called because you simply cannot ignore them when it comes to driving while tired.

Tiredness is probably a contributory factor in one-in-five fatalities on Irish roads. That's a really eye-opening statistic.

The campaign tells people to recognise the signs that they are too tired to carry on as normal; to stop, take some caffeine, and have a nap.

It's the only way that you can be safe to continue on with your driving. This is the most important thing we need people to do and it's the central message in the ad. You simply cannot ignore the signs that you are fatigued.

So in the ad our driver, who is shown fighting sleep at the wheel, sees a series of signs all telling him to stop fighting sleep.

The constant yawning and rubbing of eyes, heavy eyelids and feeling restless and irritable are all classic behaviours of a tired driver.

We create signs in the ad the driver cannot ignore. Like a warning sign inside the dashboard display.

And roadside signs telling people to have a coffee lit up in bright neon. We see further signs telling people to have a nap, lit up in clear view.

The point of this is to let people know the simple fact that you just can't fight fatigue.

It is vital to remember that the only cure for a lack of sleep is sleep.

Drivers who are suffering from a lack of sleep are at risk of "nodding off" when driving and are at greater risk of being in a crash.

Drivers are also at risk of tiredness at the wheel in the mid-afternoon and late at night because our body clocks are hard wired to feel tired at these times.

If a driver fights sleep while driving it's the same as driving while over the drink drive limit.

Eventually a driver will drift in and out of sleep and experience 'micro sleeps' which can last for up to 10 seconds.

Drivers can have a micro sleep with their eyes wide open. If a driver has a 'micro sleep' for just four seconds while travelling at a speed of 100kmh the car will have travelled 111 metres, roughly 30 car lengths, without anyone being in control.

So the next time you find yourself fighting sleep at the wheel stop and take a nap for 15 minutes - (set your mobile phone alarm).

The nap is the most important anti-fatigue tactic. Then to really make the most of your break have a caffeine drink before the nap. After the nap, get some fresh air and stretch your legs. The reason you take the coffee before the nap is because it takes roughly 20 minutes for the caffeine to take effect. So after the nap the caffeine kicks in and you get the double benefit of both the nap and the kick from the drink.

By following this advice, and not ignoring the signs that you are tired, you should be able to drive for another hour or more.

Tell us if you have had a frightening experience with driver fatigue: ecunningham@independent.ie

Indo Motoring

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