Drowsy driving is a top cause of truck accidents, resulting in injuries and hundreds of deaths. Over the years, authorities have tried to mandate truck drivers to get enough rest, but the trucking industry lives by the clock, and drivers often race against strict expectations. Fleet managers are responsible for ensuring their drivers are well-rested and protecting other road users.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) approximates that around 100,000 accidents each year can be traced to drowsy drivers. The NHTSA also attributes 1,500 deaths and 40,000 injuries to drowsy driving.
Truck drivers are more likely to be on the road while exhausted than other drivers. In a Harvard School of medicine survey, more than 50% of the participants confessed to driving while drowsy. Alarmingly, 25% of the drivers admitted to falling asleep at the wheel.
A Cause for Concern
Many experts believe that drowsy driving has similar consequences as driving under the influence. In fact, a person who has not slept for over 17 hours exhibits the same impaired judgment and reduced visual acuity as someone with a blood-alcohol level of 0.5.
Fatigue affects truck drivers in several ways, such as impaired judgment, slowed reflexes, increased distractibility, impaired balance, and increased risk of falling asleep. Considering that big rigs weigh as much as 80,000 pounds, truck drivers need to stay alert at all times.
The prevalence of sleep apnea further exacerbates the risk of drowsy driving among truck drivers. This condition, which affects more than 28% of truck drivers, is a leading cause of daytime sleepiness and distracted driving. The unhealthy lifestyles of drivers, such as the lack of exercise and consumption of fast foods, put them at a higher risk for sleep apnea.
Why Are Truck Drivers Fatigued?
According to federal rules, truck drivers should observe an 11-hour maximum driving limit after ten consecutive hours off duty. No truck driver should drive for over 14 hours, and truckers should only be on the road for 60 hours in seven days.
However, some truck drivers drive for more than 14 hours to meet deadlines. Some truck companies offer bonuses to drivers who deliver cargo before the deadline, which is an incentive to disregard regulations. Other companies pay by the mile, and a driver may drive for longer to make up for time lost in traffic.
Truck drivers often have irregular sleep schedules, making it hard to sleep at set times. So, while a driver may take a 10-hour break after driving for 11 hours, they may not actually sleep. Besides, no one can enforce it if drivers sleep during their breaks. Also, medications and conditions like sleep apnea worsen sleep irregularities.
To stay alert, truck drivers commonly resort to sleep aids or substances that can lead to impairment. Mind-altering substances like amphetamines and marijuana reduce concentration and cause hallucinations and vertigo.
What to Do
Fleet managers can reduce the dangers of drowsy driving by
- Encourage Open Communication
A work environment that encourages free communication is the first step to enhancing fleet safety. In this way, drivers can speak up when they feel tired. Training programs that include safety lessons also teach drivers to recognize the signs of fatigue. Throughout June, encourage your truck drivers to talk about fatigue and other health issues to mark Men’s Health Month.
- Prepare a Flexible Schedule
A consistent work schedule makes it easy for truck drivers to plan for rest. People need at least 7 hours of sleep a day to stay alert, and your program should reflect this need. In case of schedule changes, communicate them beforehand to give your team enough time to adjust their routines.
- Leverage Technology
New technologies help fleet managers monitor driver safety. For instance, an electronic logging device tracks a driver’s hours, and you can see which drivers exceed their limit. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are game-changers in the trucking industry, thanks to capabilities like video monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and pedestrian detection.