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Asleep at the wheel?

Claim avoidance is high on the list of priorities for any commercial vehicle insurer. The following article offers tips to share on measures that commercial truck drivers can take to reduce the risks presented by drowsy drivinga significant contributor to crash-related losses.

What keeps commercial auto insurers awake at night?

Driving a truck or delivery van is a demanding job. Fatigue and drowsiness—with the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel—are just two dangers truck drivers face on the road. And those risks are keeping commercial auto insurers awake at night.

Drowsy driving keeps commercial insurers 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 to 6 a.m., and 2 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. When you’re driving, plan stops and sleep breaks to match your natural sleep times. Sleeping at about the same time every day helps 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’re 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.

Tips for drivers to get better sleep

Things to avoid before bedtime

  • Heavy or spicy meals (2 to 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 can affect your body five hours or more; plan your intake so it doesn’t interfere with quality sleep.
  • Nicotine and other stimulants
  • Exposure to light from electronics (television, tablets, computers, etc.)
    • Studies show that light from these devices can disturb your sleep.

Things to do before bedtime

  • Explain to family, friends, and dispatchers the importance of your sleep
    • tell them when you will be sleeping, and ask them not to disturb you.
  • Tell your brain 'time to sleep' by following a relaxing routine an hour or more before bedtime

Create a good sleeping environment, anywhere

  • 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.
  • Eliminate noise: Use earplugs or a white-noise machine, such as a fan.
  • Silence phones; assign audible ringtone for important contacts to minimize distractions.
  • Keep your cab or bedroom temperature cool and comfortable for you.
  • Get a comfortable mattress and pillow: You spend one-third of your life in bed, so make it count

Take a power (safety) nap

If you feel you’re incapable of driving safely due to fatigue, pull off the road in a safe area and take a nap for 30 minutes 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.

Learn about driver risk and claim avoidance

Claim avoidance is high on the list of priorities for any commercial vehicle insurer. Client handouts from Verisk Insurance Solutions’ Engineering and Safety Service (E&S™) are just one way to avoid potential losses. Properly assessing and pricing the driver, vehicle, and business risk at the time of underwriting are critical. There’s more information related to commercial auto underwriting and loss control services on our websites.

Rick Stoll

Rick Stoll is vice president for commercial underwriting products at Verisk. You can contact him at

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