AA warns of dangers of driver fatigue

AS Easter runs into the May bank holiday this year many drivers will be taking the opportunity to have a longer break and drive longer distances. The AA is warning motorists not to ignore one major killer – fatigue. New data issued by AA Motor Insurance reveals that a lot of drivers will ignore the warning signs of fatigue and will push themselves too far. A survey of 15,700 Irish drivers showed that young male drivers are the most likely group to try to soldier on bravely and the least likely to take a break or a nap.

AS Easter runs into the May bank holiday this year many drivers will be taking the opportunity to have a longer break and drive longer distances. The AA is warning motorists not to ignore one major killer – fatigue. New data issued by AA Motor Insurance reveals that a lot of drivers will ignore the warning signs of fatigue and will push themselves too far. A survey of 15,700 Irish drivers showed that young male drivers are the most likely group to try to soldier on bravely and the least likely to take a break or a nap.

“Fatigue is a well known killer internationally but not here in Ireland” says Director of Policy Conor Faughnan. “It is associated with driving long distances on Motorways and that is new for us, but it can strike anywhere particularly if people who are only accustomed to driving a short commute are taking on three-hour plus journeys as they cross the country on holidays.”

Of the drivers who participated in the AA Motor Insurance Poll, many blamed a lack of service stations for their failure to pull over when tired. It is a legitimate complaint – there are not enough motorway rest areas. This leads to a large number of call outs to the AA Breakdown Service when cars run out of fuel. But drivers should still treat the warning signs of fatigue very seriously.

“Driver fatigue doesn’t mean that you actually fall asleep” says Faughnan. “What happens is that concentration wavers and you drift in and out of full awareness, even with your eyes open. These moments of ‘micro-sleep’ can be lethal. Take your attention from the road for 3 seconds and at motorway speeds you will travel blind for 100 metres – the length of a football pitch.”

The AA advises motorists heading off this Easter to plan their rest stops in advance, factoring in short detours off motorways as needed. Check that your car has plenty of fuel before setting off, and that passengers have had their ‘comfort breaks’.

“If you feel your eyes growing heavy, or your concentration waning the best things to do are to pull over somewhere safe, stretch your legs, drink two cups of coffee or other caffeinated drink and take a 15 minute nap” says Faughnan.

Share the driving...

For many families there are two drivers in the car yet only one of them will be behind the wheel for the whole journey. There is no need for this – share the driving if you can. Certainly no single driver should go for more than three hours without a break.

Despite this advice, the AA reports that opening the window is still the most common measure taken by motorists attempting to reduce drowsiness. 42.3% of those surveyed during the AA Motor Insurance survey admitted to doing so the last time they felt tired. On the back of this, the AA reminds drivers that rolling down the window is an ineffective remedy for fatigue.

Near misses...

300 poll respondents had additional comments or tales to tell. These included some very close calls as a result of dosing off while driving. One motorist reported that he nodded off but thankfully his wife was paying attention and grabbed the wheel. Another said that he woke up facing the wrong way on the central median on the N7 near Newbridge. These motorists were extremely lucky, but it could have been very different. Drivers really shouldn’t underestimate the dangers of driving when tired.

Young male drivers least likely to heeded warning signs...

The findings of the AA Motor Insurance poll also suggest that younger drivers, particularly males are least likely to react responsibly to driver fatigue. Within the general 17 to 24 age group, 11.7% of respondents admitted to experiencing poorer vision, 3.1% to having drifted across lanes and 3.1% to almost falling asleep behind the wheel as a result of tiredness. These figures further increase among male drivers within this age bracket. 14.2% of the young males drivers polled said they had experienced deteriorated vision as a result of tiredness and an alarming 6% to almost nodding off while in control of a vehicle.

Just 9.5% of the 17 – 24 drivers who participated in the AA Motor Insurance poll admitted to pulling over to take a nap the last time they felt tired when driving. This is compared to a figure of 17.2% of the 15,700 motorists polled by the AA; a figure it still believes is too low. This age group were also found to be the least likely to let someone else take over the driving or to pull in for coffee.

Alternatively the 65 plus age group would appear to exercise better judgement when it comes to their driving capabilities. Respondents within this category were identified as most likely to pull over, stretch their legs and take a short nap when feeling fatigued.

AA Motor Insurance also reports that male drivers are more likely to let themselves get fatigued than females. 5.9% of men compared with 1.8% of women who participated in the AA Motor Insurance poll said they had almost fallen asleep while in charge of a vehicle. 4% of males compared to 1.5% of the female respondents indicated they had drifted out of their lane. Again more men than women said their vision had been affected. Despite these statistics, twice as many male as female drivers said they stopped to take a nap when they last felt tired, with a number of women saying they felt too nervous to do so.

Symptoms of driver fatigue:

n Yawning

n Blinking a lot

n Fighting to keep your eyes open

n Struggling to focus on the road

n Daydreaming

n Rubbing your eyes

n Drifting across lanes

n Struggling to remember the last few kilometers

n Blurred vision

n Sensation of heavy limbs

n Slower reaction times

n Restlessness/boredom

n Falling asleep at the wheel

AA advice on preventing driver fatigue:

n Ensure you get adequate sleep before driving. This is something that shift workers should be particularly mindful of.

Ask your GP how any prescribed medication you are taking can affect your driving. It’s also vital to remember that daytime drowsiness can be a side effect of non prescription medications such as hay fever and cold and flu medicines which may contain antihistamines.

Avoid heavy meals and alcohol before driving.

Always plan journeys properly, deciding in advance where you’re going to stop for rest stops. This is all the more important, given the current lack of service areas on significant stretches of our motorway network.

Break any journey of over 3 hours with a 20 minute break and on longer journeys, take a break every two hours or so. Frequent short stops (of at least 20 minutes) are better than one long stop.

Take the opportunity to stretch your legs when you stop for a break from driving.

Follow this up with two cups of caffeinated coffee or a stimulation drink containing caffeine. Caffeine takes about 20 minutes to take effect so be mindful that you won’t feel the benefits straight away.

Use the 20 minute window it takes the caffeine to take effect to take a nap lasting no longer than 15-20 minutes. Much more than this and you might wake up feeling groggy.

Remember to lock the doors of your vehicle when taking a nap and never ever do so on the hard shoulder. It is illegal to pull into the hard shoulder unless in the event of an emergency.

Less effective measures commonly employed:

n Opening a window

n Turning on the aircon

n Switching on the radio

n Chewing a sweet

n Singing aloud

n Making a concentrated effort to concentrate more.