Preventing Driver Fatigue

by Brian Frederick
April 19, 2018

Keeping operators alert behind the wheel

Driving a truck or operating a piece of heavy equipment is always a dangerous job. At any moment, the operator can be called on to maneuver a several-thousand pound machine to avoid an accident. Split-second reaction times are crucial, but when drivers are tired, reactions are delayed. 

Here’s a look at the perils of tired operation and what you can do to keep your drivers alert and safe.

Drowsy drivers are dangerous drivers

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver fatigue causes an estimated 1550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in damages every year. This includes all vehicles, including personal cars, but the massive weight and momentum of heavy equipment and semis make sleepy driving even more dangerous. 

Of course this is the reason for hours of service (HOS) regulations and the ELD Mandate — to keep over-the-road truckers from pushing it too far and causing accidents. But that’s simply not enough. It’s not like someone is going to immediately fall asleep once they cross that magic eight-hour limit. 

Laws required HOS compliance, but too many companies overlook the importance of fatigue management education. According to the CDC, 35% of American adults don’t get the recommended amount of sleep every night. In addition to creating a whole host of health concerns including diabetes, heart disease and mental health disorders, this can slow reaction time to the levels of drunk drivers

Current HOS rules require 10 hours off for every eight hours on, but they don’t (and can’t) require how much sleep a driver must have before resuming duty. That means the driver barreling down the highway next to you may be operating on nothing more than four hours of sleep (or less), an energy drink or strong cup of coffee. 

Managing fatigue

The problem with attempting to reduce tired driving is the same one anti-drunk driving advocates have been fighting for years: people always think they’re fine, and even if they’re not, accidents happen to other people. Now add to this the pressures of timely deliveries and the problem grows. How many fleet managers are willing to temporarily ground a driver who’s fatigued? Unfortunately, not many.

This requires a culture shift in the organization, but there’s also a personal responsibility for drivers. Fleet managers need to educate operators not only on the hazards and compliance rules, but also on how to prevent fatigue in the first place. And it starts with lifestyle choices.

While it’s not always possible to get a full night’s sleep, there are other things your drivers can do too. Eating regular, healthy meals (not greasy fast food) and staying hydrated help keep you alert. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight does too. 

Above all, you need to educate your drivers on how to recognize the signs of fatigue and what to do about them, namely pulling over and taking a break. Encourage operators to get enough sleep, live a healthier life and be honest enough to admit they’re tired instead powering through. While it might seem important to get that delivery made on time, it’s just not worth the risk of an accident.

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