Commercial Truckers: How to Stay Awake While Driving
Long haul trucking can be an exciting and profitable way to enjoy the beauty of the country. It can also be a risky business — especially when drivers fail to get an adequate amount of sleep or have trouble staying awake while driving.
How big is the problem of fatigue among truck drivers? In the Large Truck Crash Causation Study, carried out by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), fatigue played a critical causative role, indicating the accident would have been avoided without driver fatigue, in 13% of large truck accidents. In addition, a sleep study published in the New England Journal of Medicine cited sleep deprivation and fatigue as important safety issues for long-haul truck drivers confirms this.
With that in mind, it’s more important than ever for fleet drivers to stay awake and alert while driving. Unfortunately, the nationwide driver shortage has increased to nearly 51,000 too few drivers on the road, which means increased pressure for carriers and drivers to get more done in less time. Ultimately, it means drivers are spending more hours on the road.
How Much Sleep Do Truck Drivers Get?
Going back to the New England Journal of Medicine study, truckers average 5.18 hours in bed per day and only 4.78 hours of verified sleep during that time despite the average reported sleep time for truck drivers being approximately 7.1 hours of sleep daily.
This means that drivers are getting far less sleep than they require maintaining adequate alertness for optimal safety while driving.
Can Truck Drivers Sleep Anywhere?
Most trucks are equipped with sleeping facilities truckers can use while traveling, and there are plenty of locations that allow drivers to sleep, including:
- - Truck stops
- - Interstate rest areas
- - Some customer parking lots
For the most part, this means that drivers have many options related to where they can sleep as most commonly traveled routes for truckers have abundant truck stops and rest areas available to them. For many drivers on the road today, it comes down to a matter of “when” they can sleep rather than “where.”
What is the 8 Hour Rule?
In an effort to reduce the number of accidents involving large trucks, the FMCSA established Hours of Services (HOS) rules to minimize fatigue and maximize alertness. The eight-hour rule is among them.
Drivers are only allowed to drive a maximum of 11 hours in a day after spending 10 consecutive hours off duty. However, when drivers begin driving, an eight-hour clock begins counting down. Drivers must take at least a 30-minute break before the clock winds down. That break must involve off-duty or “sleeper” status.
Afterward, they can finish the remainder of their driving hours for the day. Once the 11-hour driving window ends, drivers must spend at least 10 hours off-duty before returning to the road and beginning again with a new 11-hour clock running.
Regardless, that leaves a lot of time when drivers are on the road and need to be alert and awake for their safety as well as the safety of others on the road with them.
How Do Truck Drivers Stay Awake?
Sleep is a consistent problem among truck drivers who keep irregular hours. Some have long-distances to drive with aggressive schedules while others may need to time their travels, so they can reach specific checkpoints to pick up or offload cargo along the way to their destinations. This can have drivers making stops at all hours of the day and night in multiple time zones along the way.
What can truck drivers do to help themselves stay awake and alert?
Eat healthy foods that are low in carbs. That eliminates most fast food and convenience meals unfortunately but helps to reduce the sugar high and subsequent carb crash that leaves them feeling even more fatigued.
Take vitamins. Food on the road isn’t always the healthiest of fares. Make sure to take your vitamins, especially vitamins B and C to maintain consistent energy levels throughout the day.
Take naps. Seriously. Sleeping as little as 20-minutes can significantly improve alertness and reduce fatigue. Plus, it’s an excellent use of your 30 minutes off duty.
Listen to engaging audiobooks. If your mind is focused on an engaging story, you’re less likely to fall asleep. Go for thrillers, suspense, or even chillers for a little added adrenaline help if necessary.
Drink water. Lots of it. You may need to relieve yourself more frequently, but it’s hard to fall asleep once the urge hits full force. Plus, dehydration is a leading cause of fatigue.
Drink beverages with caffeine only when necessary. Caffeine has been used for centuries by drivers, students, employees, and more. However, caffeine impacts people differently, and for some can bring on fatigue once it starts to wear off. Other people are sensitive to caffeine and can make them jittery, nervous, or anxious.
Whether you’re an independent truck driver or a carrier employing many drivers, it’s important to encourage drivers to do whatever it takes to remain alert and awake when behind the wheel. These tips will help your drivers avoid accidents by helping them stay awake, making the roads safer for everyone.
If an accident does occur, it’s important to have the right insurance protection. Contact Coverage Specialists, Inc., and we will help you find the right protection for your needs.