Driving a truck or delivery van is a demanding job. Fatigue and the risk of falling asleep (drowsiness) behind the wheel are just two dangers truck drivers face on the road, and those risks are keeping fleet owners awake at night.
"Drowsiness" generally occurs as the result of sleep restriction, disturbed sleep, or poor quality sleep. Most drowsy driving crashes or near misses occur during three time periods: Midnight to 2 a.m., 4 a.m.to 6 a.m., and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who sleep six to seven hours a night are twice as likely to have a sleep-related crash as people who sleep eight hours or more. And people who sleep less than five hours increase their risk four to five times.
"Fatigue," on the other hand, is a broader concept that affects cognitive functions, such as concentration, hand-eye coordination, and decision-making skills needed for safe driving. Whether cognitive impairments stem from lack of sleep, sleep disruptions, or other sources, it’s critical from a safety perspective to take appropriate precautions.
Strategies for reducing fatigue behind the wheel include improving sleep habits to get adequate, quality sleep, and reducing or eliminating distractions such as cell phones. As we become more fatigued, our ability to sustain concentration is compromised. Without enough sleep, you might experience a number of other problems, including:
- slower reactions, a cloudy mind, a bad mood, and the possibility of a crash
- weakening of body defenses and increased risk for infections, high blood pressure, and diabetes
- increased appetite, which could lead to overeating and obesity
All drivers need to take precautions and actively prepare for better sleep. Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep each day, and that’s the amount truck drivers should try to get. Be aware of your body's natural feelings of sleepiness, and, when you’re driving, plan stops and sleep breaks to match your natural sleep times. Sleep at about the same time every day to help improve sleep.
Getting sufficient and regular sleep helps you fall asleep faster and sleep better. Better sleep will lead to better health and increased alertness. Any exercise during the day that doesn’t take away from sleep time improves sleep. Catch-up sleep can be helpful on your days off, but it doesn’t pay to drive when you are drowsy and risk getting involved in a crash. A good sleep environment improves sleep quality, too. Your sleep environment may depend on your schedule, but you can improve your sleep environment on the road or at home.
Some tips for drivers to get better sleep:
Things to avoid before bedtime:
- Heavy or spicy meals (2–3 hours before bed)
- Liquids, to avoid getting up to use the bathroom
- Especially avoid alcohol, which causes sleep disturbances
- Caffeine (according to your own sensitivity)—it can help you stay awake while driving, but it can affect your body for five hours or more so plan your intake so it doesn’t prevent you from getting quality sleep
- Nicotine and other stimulants
- Exposure to light from electronics (television, tablets, computers, etc.)—studies show light from these devices can disturb your sleep
Things to do before bedtime:
- Explain to family, friends, and dispatchers the importance of your sleep, when you will be sleeping, and ask them not to disturb you
- Follow a relaxing routine within an hour or more of bedtime to signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep
Create a good sleeping environment:
- Keep safety in mind on the road
- Park with a balance of quiet and safety in mind
- Block out all light—close all curtains and truck shades, or use an eye mask
- Block out noise—use earplugs or a white noise machine, like a fan
- Silence phones—if necessary, assign an audible ringtone to important contacts to minimize distractions
- Keep your cab or bedroom temperature cool and comfortable for you
- Get comfortable—you spend one third of your life in bed, so use a comfortable mattress and pillow
If you feel you’re incapable of driving safely due to fatigue, pull off the road in a safe area and take a 30-minute nap or more. You don’t want to fall asleep at the wheel and injure yourself or anyone else. When you wake up, get out of the truck, walk around, drink a caffeinated beverage, or do whatever helps you keep alert.
A business of Verisk Analytics, a leading data analytics provider, iiX provides an array of fleet risk management services to help our customers keep track of their drivers and promote safety on the road. As a service to our customers and to the industries we serve, we’re pleased to present this blog post, which offers tips on measures that commercial truck drivers can take to reduce the risks presented by drowsy driving, which is a significant contributor to serious accidents and frightening close calls.