How Can Truckers Combat Fatigue?

Truck drivers have a big responsibility. They operate large vehicles that can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds when fully loaded, and they have a duty to drive safely. When a truck driver is fatigued, they are much more likely to be involved in a serious  truck accident. If you are a long-haul trucker or driver commercially, you have likely battled fatigue behind the wheel. Long days and thousand of miles of a roadway can be tiring. There are several ways that truckers can combat fatigue in order to keep themselves and others on the roadway safe.

Is drowsy driving a big problem for truckers?

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), there were approximately 148,000 people injured and over 4,700 people killed in truck crashes during the latest reporting year in this country. For that same year in Oregon, there were 2,833 total truck crashes. Out of those incidents, there were 50 fatalities and 1,556 injuries.

The FMCSA has said that 13% of truck crashes are the result of fatigued driving. Driving while fatigued is a problem, and the FMCSA has strict regulations in place regarding how many hours a truck driver can operate in a day and during the week.

  • A driver is allowed to operate for 70 hours per workweek. This is down from 82 hours before 2013.
  • When a driver hits that limit, they must take a mandatory 34-hour resting period. This rest period must include two periods between 1 AM and 5 AM, thus ensuring truckers get at least two full nights of sleep.
  • Each driver can only operate 11 hours in any 24-hour period, and this must include at least one 30-minute break.

Tips for truckers to stay awake when driving

  1. Get enough sleep before driving

Whether sleeping in a sleeping berth in the truck, at home, or in a hotel, you should get enough sleep before you drive. Honor the 34-hour waiting period between driving sessions.

  1. Take a nap if you get tired

If you get tired while driving, or worse, fall asleep while driving, it is time to pull over and take a nap. The best time to take a nap is before you feel too drowsy. This can be difficult to do when you are on a schedule, but it is better to nap than get into a crash. The ideal nap time is at least 45 minutes.

  1. Avoid nighttime driving

Most people are naturally drowsy from 12 to 6 AM and from 2 to 4 PM. If you can avoid driving during these periods, you should do so. You can use these hours as your sleep or break times.

  1. Avoid medications that make you sleepy

You should certainly not be using sleeping pills, but there are other medications that can leave you fatigued. Check the labels of every medication you take. If they have a warning that you could become drowsy or tell you not to operate heavy machinery, do not use them. Allergy medications, cold medications, and medications for anxiety and depression commonly leave users drowsy.

  1. Watch your diet

What you eat matters. You should try to eat regularly and include healthy options (not always truck stop food or fast food). Driving hungry can leave you drowsy, as can eating unhealthy foods.

  1. There are no surefire “tricks” to staying awake

Many drivers think they have methods that can keep them awake, like blasting music, rolling down the window, drinking a bunch of caffeine, etc. These may work temporarily, but your body will adjust and you will be fatigued again shortly.