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Is Driving Drowsy Truly Dangerous?

by Holly Plude - Published: 3/23/2017
4.7 56 votes

We have all been there. We’re driving down a major interstate, perhaps Highway 101 in California or the I-10 in Texas. It’s a dark night with little moonlight. Our eyes begin to droop. We tell ourselves, “I can close my eyes for just a second. I’ll be okay after that.” But what happens when we close our eyes for just a second? Not every time will result in a fatal accident, but far too often either serious injury or a fatality can result when a driver falls asleep at the wheel.

Many truckers are surprised to learn that driving drowsy is just as dangerous as drunk driving. Much like alcohol, drowsiness reduces our reaction time, awareness, judgement and increases the risk of an accident.

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And yet, a common thought is that if a driver falls asleep at the wheel and is in an accident, but doesn’t admit he was sleeping, then he cannot be held responsible for the accident. There was a time where that could have been true. However, crash investigators have gained significant experience and now have indicators that help determine if the crash was the result of drowsy driving.

What causes drowsiness?

 There is no single clear cut answer. In fact, there are many reasons, some of which include:

When a driver is sleep deprived he can find his reaction time impaired. Also, as his drowsiness increases it will increase aggressive behaviors, which can be fatal on the road.

What can managers do to assist drivers get enough time off for rest?

The easiest answer is to leave the driver alone when he or she is off-duty. This means that if your driver is placed off-duty, then try and leave that driver alone for their entire off-duty period. Any telephone calls or text messages sent during the off-duty time only serve to interrupt the driver’s rest.

Just because you only have to give your driver 10 hours off-duty, doesn’t mean that you only have to give the minimum off. If you can find a way to give more than 10 hours off, it is in your driver’s best interest. Why? Consider this, the driver’s 10 hours off duty begin as soon as they log off of their e-log. The driver still has to drive home, spend time with his family, perhaps have a meal, take care of household chores, etc. That 10 hours off-duty can quickly dwindle down to just 5 or 6 hours, sometimes less. If you cannot give the driver more than the minimum required off-duty time, then try not to interrupt him during that time, so he can get as much rest as possible.

And last, but by no means least. At an absolute bare minimum, make sure you are giving your driver 10 hours off between hauls. When you either allow a driver to work without the allotted 10 hours off, or worse yet, encourage such behavior, you are putting your driver’s life at risk, and everyone who shares the road with him. Think about this. What if your mother and father were driving to the same city your driver was but you knew your driver had only had eight hours off duty. Would you be comfortable with your parents on the same road as your tired driver?

Remember that a truck driving job is not unskilled labor. Drivers are perhaps some of the most skilled employees you will have. They are responsible for 80,000+ pound of steel and rubber. They have to navigate all weather types, various terrains, and deal with all manner of other drivers - especially drivers in larger states such as Florida. Truckers have one of the more difficult jobs and need to be treated as such.

What if you are an over-the-road driver who lives in his truck? Don’t skimp on your sleeping accommodations. Just because your truck driving job requires you sleep in your truck, doesn’t mean to have to comprise the quality of your sleep. Invest in a good mattress and pillow. Have a portable fan and heater. The fan can assist with blocking out noise while you are sleeping. And either the fan or heater can be invaluable if your truck or trailer is broken down and you are sleeping while waiting for repairs to begin. The FMCSA has a regulation regarding what can be in your sleeper berth.

What if your drowsiness is caused by pure simple boredom? Driving is a thinking man’s job. I would often times tell my drivers that they had way too much time to think while driving.  But if a driver the road for 10 hours a day for three weeks at a time, it can get boring. How can one keep their mind engaged, and therefore awake? Try some of these suggestions:

Audio books. These can be novels, non-fiction, language learning books, textbooks, religious material, etc. The key here is to find something that engages you and keeps your mind active. If you love to read Stephen King novels, consider broadening your horizons and reach for an Anne Perry book.

Music. Driving is an excellent time to broaden your music tastes. If you love jazz, try listening to Bach. If you love heavy metal, try listening to country. You might find a genre you really enjoy that you previously would never have considered.

Need to Know:

Sleep debt is a real thing. Every person requires a certain number of hours of sleep each day. How many hours is different from person to person.

Regardless, when you do not obtain that sleep you begin to accumulate what is called sleep debt. And, sleep debt, much like monetary debt, must eventually be repaid. Unfortunately, it can all to often be repaid while behind the wheel.

What is enough sleep for your sister, or mother, or spouse, may not necessarily be enough for you. You must determine how much sleep you personally require and aim for that much sleep each day. Lack of sleep adversely affects your health, your mood, your reaction times on the road.

How Can You Tell You’re Too Tired?

Can you answer yes to one or more of the following questions?

1. Do you have difficulty focusing on the task of driving?

2. Is it hard to keep your eyes open and your head up?

3. Do you yawn repeatedly or need to rub your eyes constantly?

4. Do you find yourself drifting from lane to lane?

5. Do you all of the sudden find yourself right up on the bumper of the vehicle in front of you?

6. Are you turning up your radio extra loud or rolling down your window in an effort to stay awake?

7. Are you seeing things that are not really there?

That last question has personal meaning for me. I was driving home from Milwaukee, Wisconsin one night. It was about 1:00 am and I swear there were white elephants crossing the highway in front of me, while I was driving 75 miles an hour. I had driven tired many times, but this experience actually scared me.


Bottom Line:

Sleep is a necessity of life. You simply cannot skimp on it. A lack of quality sleep will eventually catch up with you, and you do not want to realize the importance of sleep after seriously injuring someone in a motor vehicle crash.

Take time to understand how much sleep you required. Make sure the sleep you get is quality sleep. And if you have a sleeping disorder, get treated for it soon!

The number of trucker job opportunities are on the rise. As new drivers fill these roles, it is important that we educate them in every manner of safety.


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