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Heavy Eyelids, Heavy Hazards: the Dangers of Trucking Fatigue

Illustration for article titled Heavy Eyelids, Heavy Hazards: the Dangers of Trucking Fatigue

When you drive a truck, you spend long hours sitting motionless, watching endless, repetitive scenery fly by all day, every day. Staying awake can be extremely difficult when you’ve been on the road for a while. But staying alert is absolutely essential for the safety of truck drivers and of everyone on the road.

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Who is responsible for trucker fatigue? How dangerous is the phenomenon? And what can the trucking industry do to prevent drivers from drowsy driving? Read on to find out.

Fatigue is a Serious Road Hazard

According to the National Sleep Foundation, “At least 15% of all heavy truck crashes involve fatigue.” That’s a lot of sleepy trucking. According to Byrd Davis, an Austin, Texas truck accident lawyer, “large truck crashes accounted for 11 percent of all traffic fatalities, per IIHS”. Our roads are not safe when large trucks are being operated by people who are not getting enough sleep. Drowsy driving is as serious a problem as drunk driving (and in fact, staying awake for 18 hours may make you legally drunk, regardless of alcohol intake). Some facts:

  • Fatigued driving is common. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that 72,000 crashes occurred in the US during 2013. They also state that due to underreporting, the number is, in reality, probably much higher.
  • Fatigued driving is lethal. NHTSA also state that at least 800 people were killed in those drowsy driving related accidents, and 44,000 people were injured. And again, the number is probably much higher.
  • Fatigued driving is avoidable. Drivers can avoid fatigued in two ways: 1) by avoiding fatigue through sleep, exercise, and nutrition, 2) by getting off the road when fatigue does show up.
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The Industry’s Responsibility

Keeping truckers alert is the entire industry’s responsibility. Everyone from corporate leadership on down to the drivers themselves need to keep this problem in mind and to work toward solutions.

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Drivers, of course, need to know their limits. According the National Sleep Foundation, shift workers are among those most likely to suffer accidents while driving short of energy. Truckers should monitor their alertness levels and know when to call it a night. And they need to realize that no shipment is worth the risk of a truck accident.

Likewise, management and corporate leadership needs to recognize the same thing: that safety of the public is more important than profits. Managers should respect the decisions of drivers who prioritize sleep over schedules. Of course, truckers should always attempt to make deadlines, but managers often set unrealistic goals that force truckers to take risks.

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To avoid fatigued driving, truckers should:

  • Get enough sleep. Sleep is the most important factor for alertness. No one can stay awake for long periods of time without feeling the effects. Truckers should get the same 7-9 hours a night that everyone should get.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. A mix of protein, healthy fats, complex carbs, and fiber will help energy remain high. Balanced diets create long-lasting, efficient energy that will keep drivers at their best.
  • Pay attention. No one can be fully alert all the time. Drivers need to know their limits, and pull off if they’re not feeling full force.

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