Trucking often demands little opportunity for rest due to long irregular work hours, early start times and night shifts, often sacrificing good, quality sleep causing driver fatigue. Fatigue is the result of physical or mental exertion that impairs performance. As stated in 49 CFR 392.3, “No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial vehicle while driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial vehicle.”
In the Consensus Statement: Fatigue and Accidents in Transport Operations compiled by Dr. Torbjornakerstedt, states that “fatigue is the largest identifiable and preventable cause of accidents in transport operations, surpassing that of alcohol or drug related incidents in all modes of transportation.” Research from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has confirmed that fatigue was the most frequently cited cause of heavy truck accidents, accounting for 30-40% of them, and was also the cause of 31% of the 182 fatal-to-the-truck-driver accidents studied. Driver fatigue poses a serious risk to public safety and should be prevented in every way possible. In order to reduce fatigue, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recommends following these tips:
- Get enough sleep before getting behind the wheel. Be sure to get an adequate amount of sleep each night. If possible, do not drive while your body is naturally drowsy, between the hours of 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Driver drowsiness may impair a driver’s response time to potential hazards, increasing the chances of being in a crash. If you do become drowsy while driving, be sure to choose a safe place to pull over and rest..
- Maintain a healthy diet. Skipping meals or eating at irregular times may lead to fatigue and/or food cravings. Also, going to bed with an empty stomach or immediately after a heavy meal can interfere with sleep. A light snack before bed may help you achieve more restful sleep. Remember that if you are not well-rested, induced fatigue may cause slow reaction time, reduced attention, memory lapses, lack of awareness, mood changes, and reduced judgment ability.
- Take a nap. If possible, you should take a nap when feeling drowsy or less alert. Naps should last a minimum of 10 minutes, but ideally a nap should last up to 45 minutes. Allow at least 15 minutes after waking to fully recover before starting to drive.
- Avoid medication that may induce drowsiness. Avoid medications that may make you drowsy if you plan to get behind the wheel. Most drowsiness-inducing medications include a warning label indicating that you should not operate vehicles or machinery during use. Some of the most common medicines that may make you drowsy are: tranquilizers, sleeping pills, allergy medicines and cold medicines.
- Recognize the signals and dangers of drowsiness. Pay attention: Indicators of drowsiness include: frequent yawning, heavy eyes, and blurred vision.
- Don’t rely on “alertness tricks” to keep you awake. Behaviors such as smoking, turning up the radio, drinking coffee, opening the window, and other “alertness tricks” are not real cures for drowsiness and may give you a false sense of security.