Drowsy Driving: Is It an Occupational Hazard for Truck Drivers?

Many truck drivers find themselves working against the clock. Delivering their load as quickly as possible brings them and the companies they work for the biggest profits, but at what cost? Many drivers are chronically sleep deprived because they push themselves beyond their limits to make more money and meet strict deadlines. Sleep deprivation is far more serious than many people realize.

Dangerously Sleep Deprived Drivers

While truck drivers aren’t the only sleep-deprived drivers on the road, their vehicles are the largest and heaviest which makes commercial vehicle accidents particularly dangerous. Drowsy driving contributes to nearly 72,000 accidents each year because people underestimate their ability to drive while tired.

Amongst other physical problems, lack of sleep causes neurons in the brain to slow down. In turn, reasoning skills, reaction times, and vigilance decrease to levels that impair driving. Moods, particularly aggression, become less stable and decision-making abilities go down. Commercial vehicles require more time to stop, turn, and maneuver. A driver who’s been working for hours on end may not have the mental and physical ability to make the split second decisions needed to prevent an accident. Accidents between commercial vehicles and passenger vehicles can result in serious brain, back, and neck injuries, or even death.

An Industry Built on Volume and Deadlines

The trucking industry is built on its ability to move as many goods as possible in the shortest amount of time. Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for sleep. In recent years, regulations have been updated to try to help truck drivers get better rest in the hopes of preventing accidents. Drivers cannot work more than 70 hours per week and only 11 hours per twenty-four hour period. Breaks are required and a mandatory 34-hour rest period must take place before another work week begins. They’re also required to have at least two rest periods that span from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., times when the body naturally wants to rest.

However, even during these rest periods, drivers may get the kind of rest they need to be at their best. The conditions for good sleep–a comfortable mattress, cool temperatures, and consistent bed and wake times–aren’t easy to get while on the road. Whether drivers sleep in their cab or a hotel, they don’t always have the benefit of controlling the conditions in which they sleep.

Recognizing Limits and Promoting Healthy Sleep

Trucks drivers who may be on the road alone for days have the responsibility to recognize their own limits. The signs of fatigue and sleep deprivation may include:

  • slow blinking
  • frequent yawning
  • missing an exit
  • lane drifting
  • lost time

As drivers learn to recognize when their judgment may be impaired, they can take proper action, which may include pulling over and taking a short 15-minute nap. Pushing through can result in personal injury from serious accidents that put the driver and domestic drivers and passengers in danger.

Giving truck drivers rest periods that allow them to better follow their natural circadian rhythms is a good start. But companies and drivers need to understand the importance of quality sleep and be sure those regulations are being followed. That may mean using GPS trackers to monitor trucks to be sure drivers are taking the time they need to stay alert. As companies and regulators work together, this industry that has inadvertently promoted sleep deprivation for so long can put driver health and public safety ahead of meeting deadlines.

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