Sunday 23 October 2016

A reminder of the cost of driving while tired

For all the modern safety innovations, it is still up to the driver to be sure they are fit for the road

Published 15/05/2016 | 02:30

Tired drivers are a danger on the road. (Stock picture)
Tired drivers are a danger on the road. (Stock picture)

The two-year jail sentence for the driver who killed 31-year-old Olivia Dunne and seriously injured her then three-month-old baby Eabha in January 2014 when he mounted a footpath after probably falling asleep at the wheel may have seemed harsh in some quarters, but driver fatigue is a very real issue and must be dealt with.

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The 64-year-old motorist, Anthony Handley, was behind the wheel after just four hours of sleep, and while there was no sign of drugs or alcohol in this case, there doesn't need to be. It is estimated that fatigue is often more dangerous than being over the limit.

The scourge of driving while tired is still not really understood and there seems a lot of machismo surrounding it with people boasting how they can almost drive across France in one sitting. The pampering of our children is also not helping, as I know of many parents who get up half way through the night to pick up their little darlings or deliver them to the airport after just a couple of hours' sleep.

We have all done it and even on car launches I and colleagues have had to be at airports at dawn and then driving for long periods on strange roads.

Judge Pat McCartan said the scale of the consequences of Anthony Handley's driving when he ought to have been alert to the oncoming presence of tiredness meant that he had to impose an immediate custodial sentence and also send out a message to the community that fatigue is a phenomenon that has to be in the minds of all drivers

Thankfully, the car industry has been developing various types of fatigue-detection systems. I think the first one - about 10 years ago - was developed by Volvo, like many safety systems. I also know Lexus was at it very early too, but Mercedes-Benz has been the marque I have most associated with the system.

Its Attention Assist was unveiled seven years ago and monitors the driver's fatigue level and drowsiness based on his/her driving inputs. It issues a visual and audible alarm to alert the driver if he or she is too drowsy to continue driving. Cleverly, it can be linked to the car's navigation system, and using that data, it can tell the driver where coffee and fuel are available.

The system has now trickled down through all Mercedes and is even standard in the new A-Class.

Eye-tracking and eye-lid monitoring systems have also been developed by Toyota and Lexus, which at the last resort will apply the brakes.

I was recently driving the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, a 'masterpiece of intelligence', that moves the era of 'autonomous motoring' even closer.

One option that every motorist will welcome is a feature that allows the car to be manoeuvred remotely via a mobile phone without the driver being inside. Another option, Drive, demonstrate its ability to travel on 'auto pilot' while essential functions - such as speed control, braking, acceleration, gear changing and an ability to anticipate hazards ahead and take whatever corrective action may be necessary - are all carried out automatically.

But beyond that the E-Class was the smoothest and best-engineered car I have come across this year. It really has moved the car up a notch and set new standards in the business-class segment.

It also comes with around €7,000 worth of extra standard features compared to the outgoing model. It is the most high-tech model out there.

I was driving the first model to be marketed here, a E220d Avantgarde Automatic version. The all-new E220d engine has lower CC (1950 compared to 2143 for the previous model), lower C02 (102g/km), lower fuel consumption (4.3 litres/100Km combined), lower road tax (€190), increased horsepower (194 HP) and 400Nm of torque. While starting prices are €52,850, the test car had another €3,000 or so of extra kit - mainly metallic paint - Burr Walnut trim and an €800 alarm pack.

But whatever about the technology, it is still the driver's duty to ensure that he or she is fit to drive. As was pointed out in Anthony Handley's sentence hearing last week driver fatigue could result in "microsleeps", which can last up to 10 seconds while a driver still has their eyes open.

Prosecuting counsel Dominic McGinn said during a micro-sleep lasting just four seconds, a car can travel the length of a football pitch.

Sunday Independent

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