Ireland’s Road Safety Authority (RSA) today held its fifth Annual Academic Road Safety Lecture, marking the first day of “Irish Road Safety Week,” which runs through Sunday. The theme of today’s lecture was “Fatigue, Sleep Disorders and Driving Risk” and was attended by over 100 road safety stakeholders.

The RSA is urging people to get involved in its drive to save lives, as statistics show that road fatalities are almost as high as last year in Ireland, when the country experienced the first increase in road deaths since 2005.

Speakers at today’s lecture included Professor Walter McNicholas, director of the Pulmonary and Sleep Disorders Unit at St. Vincent’s University Hospital, and Ellen Townsend, policy director at the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC). McNicholas’ presentation looked at sleep apnea, sleepiness, and driving risk, and Townsend’s presentation gave an EU perspective on fatigue as a risk factor for professional drivers.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe, TD, said: “Irish Road Safety Week is an opportunity for all of us to think about how we behave on the roads and how we can improve our safety. Sadly we have seen worryingly high deaths on our roads so far again this year, almost on a par with last year. But if we have learned anything from the previous few years, it’s that we can all make real changes to improve road safety. So this week, consider what you can do to make our roads safe.”

Speaking at the lecture, Moyagh Murdock, CEO of RSA, said: “Today’s lecture brings together road safety stakeholders to learn from national and international experience of how sleeping disorders, in particular sleep apnea and sleepiness, impact on our ability to drive. Evidence suggests that driver fatigue and sleepiness is a factor in 1 in 5 collisions, and for those suffering from sleep apnea, the risk of falling asleep at the wheel is up to 7 times greater than the general population. In a recent RSA Survey of Driver Attitudes & Behaviour (2013), 1 in 10 Irish motorists admitted they have fallen asleep at the wheel. The lecture will explore these challenges presented by sleepiness and sleep disorders and examine ways to mitigate driver risk.”

McNicholas, who presented at today’s lecture, said: “Untreated sleep apnea is associated with high levels of sleepiness, which makes driving incredibly dangerous. When treated effectively, sleep apnea is incredibly manageable, so awareness of the signs and early diagnosis is key. International literature from a number of different countries shows an average of 20-25% of all collisions on motorways are caused by excessive sleepiness. If you are tired behind the wheel, the best intervention is to pull over and sleep for 15-20 minutes. However, this is a short term measure, and will only revive a driver for up to an hour.”

Attendees at today’s lecture also heard from Townsend. In her presentation, “An EU perspective on fatigue as a risk factor for professional drivers,” Townsend gave an overview on the level of road deaths in Europe associated with fatigue, and examined “fitness to drive” as part of overall workplace health promotion. “Today’s lecture will help give perspective on a wide range of issues associated with the sleep disorders and road safety, and in particular, how employers can address sleep disorders and sleepiness among their employees who drive for work,” she said.

To date this year, 146 people have been killed on Irish roads, a decrease of 1 when compared to the same period last year. This week, road safety activities will take place around the country to promote the need to stay safe on the roads. A full list of these activities is available on