by Pride Transport | Apr 03, 2023
The truck driving profession tests a person’s driving skills, but it shouldn’t test your ability to stay awake. Yet due to the nature of over-the-road driving, driver fatigue is a serious concern for the trucking industry. When drivers are overtired, their skills can slip, endangering themselves and others.
Feeling drowsy while driving isn’t a reflection of how well someone does their job (after all, we all feel tired sometimes). Managing fatigue and learning ways to feel more rested is necessary to being a good driver. We wish for all drivers to have long, fulfilling truck-driving careers, and learning how to take care of yourself is one way you can encourage others to stay in the profession.
Causes and Effects of Driver Fatigue
Feeling fatigued behind the wheel isn’t just a nuisance for you to fight through — it can quickly become a serious hazard to you and other drivers. The Sleep Foundation puts it this way: “It’s believed that going 24 hours without sleep is comparable to having a blood-alcohol content of 0.10%, which exceeds the legal limit for driving in all 50 states.”
While we don’t think most drivers go that long without sleeping, it’s true that not all of us get regular amounts of good sleep. But there are many other factors contributing to driver fatigue, too.
- Long hours. Even the best music playlist can’t keep us from feeling a little sleepy when driving long hours over the course of several days. The monotonous nature of driving hundreds of miles on long highways can make focusing a challenge.
- Irregular schedules. Irregular schedules can throw off the body’s natural sleep schedule. Our bodies benefit from being on a regular routine, and the truck driving lifestyle doesn’t always allow for that.
- Poor sleep quality. Simply going to bed doesn’t guarantee a good night’s sleep. Exposure to specific types of light, consuming certain food or drink close to bedtime, and unmanaged stress can all contribute to restless sleep and daytime fatigue.
- Health conditions. Tight back, creaky knees, insomnia — there are a lot of health conditions that can make sleeping difficult and cause fatigue the next day. Certain medications, like cold medicine, can contribute to drowsiness as well. (Fatigue itself can even be a serious health condition. If you experience frequent sleepiness for extended stretches of time, consider talking to a medical professional about causes and possible solutions.)
While fatigue can be generally uncomfortable or even upsetting to drivers, there are much bigger risks to be concerned about.
Impaired reaction time is one of the biggest risks of fatigue. A lot of factors determine a person’s reaction time, but level of fatigue is a major contributor. Studies have shown that our reaction times increase as we accumulate “sleep debt.” Essentially, the longer we lose out on actual rest, the longer it takes to react, which can have catastrophic consequences: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “estimates that up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be due to drowsy drivers.”
It’s hard to pay attention and drive safely when you’re tired. You might miss that vehicle changing into your lane, or the car that suddenly stopped in front of you during rush hour. You might even begin to drift into other lanes or go off the road. Even the most skilled drivers can become a liability when they’re not fully awake.
Healthy Ways to Manage Fatigue
You can’t trick your way to more alert driving when you’re truly fatigued. Opening the window or drinking caffeinated beverages might perk you up momentarily, but these behaviors don’t offer sustained alertness. Luckily, there are a lot of healthy habits drivers can adopt to ward off fatigue and feel more well rested.
Get enough sleep (at the right time of day).
A good night’s sleep really is one of the best ways to prevent fatigue, which is why you should focus on getting it right. Aim for lights out at the same time each to create a regular rhythm that your body will remember. About an hour before bed, begin a calming nighttime routine. This can be as simple as brushing your teeth, washing your face, and calling a friend or family member. Make sure your sleep space is dark, quiet, and comfortable with no distractions.
And if you can, avoid driving between 12 and 6 a.m. It’s one of the times when our bodies experience a normal dip in energy, and studies show that most accidents occur in this timeframe.
Take planned breaks.
Driving regulations require you to take breaks, and we mean it: take breaks! A 15-minute nap can be a huge boost on your path to less fatigue. The key is to plan on napping before you feel drowsy to get the most benefit from it.
Exercise every day.
Exercise can have an energizing effect on you during the day and help you rest better at night. The endorphins from working out will carry you for a while while you're driving, and when it’s time to go to bed, your body will be ready to rest and recover.
Eat well and at regular intervals.
Skipping meals contributes to fatigue. Pack healthy snacks and meals when possible, and if you plan to eat at a restaurant, check out fast-food menus beforehand so you know the best options before stopping in. You’ll know what to order and eliminate decision fatigue. Win!
What you eat closer to bedtime matters, too. Experts recommend avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and spicy or high-fat foods in the evening because they can have a negative effect on your ability to get deep sleep.
How Pride Helps Prevent Driver Fatigue
While individual drivers can manage fatigue, our team at Pride can do our part, too. Safety is of the utmost importance and we make sure to equip our drivers with technologically advanced vehicles with built-in safety features, such as the SmartDrive safety program and Detroit Assurance.
Optimized schedules ensure that drivers get the routes AND rest they need. Efficient scheduling makes sure that freight arrives at its destinations on time and while allowing time for drivers to manage a normal workload.
We also provide extensive training and support to our drivers so they know what to expect from the truck-driving lifestyle. Drivers can reach out to trainers for advice on managing fatigue or talk to another driver mentor to come up with solutions that keep everyone safe.
Regulations Designed for Driver Safety
In addition to how drivers and companies can help to prevent fatigued driving, there are also federal regulations that limit drivers to reasonable operating hours. Drivers and their employers must abide by these regulations for the health and safety of everyone on the road.
For example, property-carrying drivers are limited to driving 11 hours max after 10 consecutive hours off-duty. Drivers are also required to take a 30-minute break after driving for eight cumulative hours without a break.
There are provisions to some of these regulations — including exceptions for adverse weather conditions, short-haul drivers, and trucks with sleeper berths — so it’s important that drivers consult with their company to know exactly what’s required when they begin their route.
Everyone feels tired sometimes, but with a plan for better sleep, you’ll be better prepared to manage fatigue and be a more alert driver. Check out our driver openings at Pride Transport and get the extra support you need on your way to a long driving career.