Driver Fatigue: How to Stay Awake on the Road

  • Driver fatigue is a contributory factor to 1 in 5 road deaths in Ireland
  • A collision where tiredness is a factor is 3 times more likely to result in death or serious injury
  • Over 4,000 people die across Europe in driver fatigue related accidents each year

Research shows one in ten Irish drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel. This frightening statistic from the Road Safety Authority shows how important it is for drivers to pay attention to how tired they are when behind the wheel.

What is driver fatigue?

Driver fatigue is a physical and mental tiredness caused by lack of sleep or rest over a period of time. One of the key elements of safe driving is feeling awake and able to concentrate. Getting behind the wheel of a car or other vehicle while feeling sleepy will result in slower reaction times and makes you much more likely to be involved in an accident.

What to do if you feel tired behind the wheel?

If you are driving and begin to feel drowsy, it is critical to take action as soon as possible:

Do not keep driving, even if you are close to home

Many fatigue related accidents happen close to home. It is better to be late than not to arrive at all.

Find a safe place to pull in:

If possible, stop at a shop or service station, if not, pull into an off road layby. Do not stop in the hard shoulder of a motorway as you are at risk from passing traffic. Instead, leave the motorway at the next exit and find a safe place to pull in.

Have a coffee:

If possible, have a coffee or similar caffeinated drink. This will give you a boost of energy once it takes effect.

Take a nap:

Lock your car doors and take a 15-20 minute nap to allow the caffeine to kick in and take the edge off your fatigue. Avoid sleeping any longer than this as you will go into a deep sleep cycle and may wake feeling even more groggy. 

Once you have completed these steps and if you feel more alert, continue driving. If not, rest for longer.

Driver fatigue management: 

In the longer term, it is critical to get enough quality rest before you drive on either a long or short journey. Try to:

  • Get 7 - 8 hours sleep at night
  • Take regular breaks on a long journey
  • Keep your car well ventilated
  • Notice if you begin to feel drowsy

Who is most affected by tiredness while driving? 

There are several professions that increase your risk of experiencing drowsy driving. You should be particularly vigilant if you belong to any of these groups:

Night shift workers: if you work night shift or at times when you would usually be sleeping, you are at higher risk of being a tired driver, particularly after your first few night shifts, before your body is not used to the change.

Lorry drivers: in haulage, time really is money and the pressure to hit deadlines can tempt you to push through, even if you are feeling tired. Although you may follow the strict EU guidelines on rest time, you are the only person who can monitor the quality of rest you are getting. If you cannot or do not sleep during your time out of the cab, you might be dangerously fatigued when you are back on the road.

Skilled manual workers: if you work in a trade, chances are you drive more than most from job to job and your work is tiring. This increases your chances of experiencing driver fatigue on the way home.

Even though there are people more likely to be impacted by driver fatigue, the concept is familiar to most drivers. Feeling tired at the wheel might happen for a range of reasons:

  • Medication
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Driving an unusually long journey
  • Insomnia from stress, anxiety or depression

It makes sense for all drivers to pay attention to how we feel and take steps to avoid losing concentration behind the wheel.

You would never drink and drive, tired driving poses the same risk to you and others on the road.

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