Accidents & Fatigue
Driver fatigue contributes to 40% of all truck crashes. Unlike poorly maintained vehicles and dangerous road conditions, fatigue is one of the easiest accident risk factors to correct. If drivers are educated about the warning signs of fatigue and legislators pass strict laws to limit hours behind the wheel, the number of fatal collisions involving tired truck drivers could be greatly reduced.
What Causes Fatigue?
- Getting less sleep than you need. Not getting enough sleep before your first shift or between shifts will increase the chance of fatigue.
- Lack of sleep over a number of days. Lack of sleep can build up over a number of days. This is called “sleep debt.” The more sleep debt you accumulate, the quicker you become fatigued on a long haul. As a result, you’re more likely to become fatigued during a shift at the end of the week, than a shift at the beginning of the week.
- Long driving hours. Long work hours, especially over more than one day, can lead to fatigue.
- Night time driving. Driving at night can put extra stress on your body, as this is usually when you’re ready to sleep.
- Irregular hours and early starting times. Rosters that make it hard to get enough refreshing quality sleep can lead to fatigue.
- Tight scheduling. Stressful work with tight schedules contribute to fatigue.
- Insufficient time to recover. Fatigue can also be caused by not having enough time to rest and recover between shifts.
- Doing non-driving physical work. Work such as loading and unloading, as well as heavy lifting can add to the onset of fatigue.
- Poor driving conditions. Some of the following conditions can also affect your concentration and therefore make driving more difficult.
- hot weather (hot & stuffy in the cabin)
- wet weather
- monotonous driving
- driving on very familiar roads
Time of Day Factors
- Working when you should normally be asleep. There are times of day when your body wants to rest or be asleep (such as in the early hours of the morning). This is because our bodies are programmed to operate on a 24-hour cycle. When the sun goes down, your body reacts by preparing for sleep. After midnight, your ‘body clock’ automatically starts to reduce your body temperature as well as your physical alertness so that you can sleep. The other time when your body wants to sleep is “siesta” time in the early afternoon after lunch. These are particularly dangerous times for fatigue and especially microsleeps.
- Trying to sleep during the day. Your programmed “body clock” is a key reason as to why it can be harder to sleep during the day than at night. When the sun is out, daylight signals to your body to be more alert and awake. Trying to rest during this time means sleep is less refreshing for the body.
- Poor health and fitness. Being unfit or overweight can mean that driving is more draining. Other conditions such as diabetes, if they are not treated, can also make you feel tired and fatigued.
- Emotional issues. Stress can affect you in many ways, causing you to become fatigued more quickly.
- Sleep disorders. Some people suffer from sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. This is where breathing stops and starts during sleep, causing sleep to be less refreshing than it normally would be. If you snore loudly, wake up tired, fall asleep unexpectedly, or your partner notices you stop breathing during the night – you may have sleep apnea. If you think you are suffering from sleep apnea, see your doctor for advice.
Signs of Fatigue
The ability to recognize when your driving is being impacted by fatigue is one of the first steps to preventing truck accidents. Truckers can protect themselves and others by knowing how to identify these signs that fatigue has set in and it is time to take a break.
- Have you been tailgating?
- Are you changing lanes for no apparent reason?
- Are you having a difficult time maintaining a constant speed?
- Are you braking for no apparent reason?
- Are you driving on the white lines?
- Do you keep jerking the wheel to stay in your lane?
- Have you drifted onto the shoulder of the roadway?
- Are you constantly shifting in your seat?
- Did you roll down your window for some fresh air?
- Are oncoming headlights bothering you?
- Are your eyes closing or going out of focus by themselves?
- Are your eyes starting to burn?
- Are you having wandering or disconnected thoughts?
- In the last hour, did you calculate the exact time you would arrive at your destination?
- Have you adjusted your radio more than once in the last hour?
- Do you need stimulants to stay alert (caffeine, coffee, soda)?
- Did you forget to turn off your turn signal from the last lane change?
- Are other vehicles getting on your nerves? Are you not aware that you are being passed by other vehicles?
- Are you not able to remember the last warning sign you passed?
If you answer “yes” to four or more of these questions, you are starting to experience fatigue. Events are happening around you that require your full attention. If you are fatigued, you are not able to respond quickly to events as they occur. A situation could rapidly develop that you may not be in a position to correct or deal with safely. When you recognize these symptoms of fatigue, it’s time to take a break! Please drive safely!
Source: Parents Against Tired Truckers