It is no secret that driving a truck can be a demanding and exhausting job. You have the long hours on the road, combined with the ever-present danger of falling asleep at the wheel. This makes truck driving one of the most dangerous professions in the world. Driving a truck can be demanding. It can be exhausting. It can be lonely. But it can also be exhilarating, empowering, and freeing. That’s why it’s so important for truck drivers to do everything they can to prevent driver fatigue.
Driver fatigue is a serious problem in the trucking industry, and it’s one that truck drivers need to be aware of at all times. This can lead to accidents, injuries, and even deaths. The FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association) cites a study called The Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS). This study reported that 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their crash. If you’re feeling tired while behind the wheel, don’t hesitate to take a break. There’s no shame in pulling over. In fact, it’s one of the smartest things you can do. It’s better to arrive late than not at all. With that said, here are 10 tips to help you prevent driver fatigue:
1. Get a good night’s sleep before your shift:
This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s important nonetheless.It is recommended to get at least eight hours of sleep before you start your shift so that you’re well rested and ready to drive. Getting a good night’s sleep before your shift is important for a number of reasons. First, it will help you to be well rested and alert while you’re driving. Secondly, it will help to improve your focus and concentration. And finally, it will help to reduce the risk of making mistakes while you’re on the job. So make sure you get plenty of rest before your next shift!
Once you are on the road, if possible, do not continue driving when your body reaches its natural drowsy state. This natural drowsy state typically falls between the hours of 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Driver drowsiness could impair a driver’s response time to potential hazards, increasing the chances of being in a crash. So if you ever find yourself experiencing these levels of drowsiness it is best practice to safely pull over and rest.
2. Take regular breaks:
Driving a truck can be a long and monotonous task, particularly if you are driving across open countryside with few landmarks to break up the journey. If you have ever been on a long haul you know first hand how easy it is to get lost in the open landscape and “drift off”. It is therefore important to take regular breaks in order to stay alert, fresh, and focused. Not only will this help prevent accidents, but it will also give you the opportunity to rest and stretch your legs. Ideally, try to take your breaks in scenic areas where you can enjoy some fresh air and take in the surroundings. By taking regular breaks, you can make sure that you not only stay fresh and alert but also arrive at your destination safely without any unwanted delays.
3. Drink plenty of water:
Staying hydrated is key to preventing fatigue in fact it is imperative in the biological sense. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout your shift so that you’re not dehydrated when you start to feel tired. Some individuals may argue against drinking a lot of water on the road. They might cite that it will cause drivers to take more bathroom breaks and therefore lose time. However not staying hydrated has far worse side effects than having to stop for a restroom break one or two extra times.
Believe it or not, your hydration is a key piece in staying alert and preventing fatigue. When you’re tired, it’s easy to let your water intake slip. Dehydration can make your fatigue worse. Dehydration decreases blood volume, which reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reach your muscles. This can lead to less energy and endurance for the individual (ie. fatigue). To prevent dehydration-related fatigue, drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, even if you’re not thirsty. In hot weather or when you’re working harder than normal, drink even more. Also don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Staying hydrated will help keep fatigue at bay so you can stay on the road.
4. Eat healthy food:
A healthy diet is essential for maintaining energy levels while driving a truck. When you eat healthy foods, your body gets the nutrients it needs to function properly. This means that you’ll have more energy to stay alert and focused while behind the wheel. Eating sugary or fatty foods can cause what is known as a blood sugar crash (sugar crash for short), leaving you feeling sluggish and sleepy. This of course is not a great recipe for safe driving. So make sure to fill up on healthy fruits, vegetables, and proteins to keep your energy levels up during your shift. Veteran truck drivers would agree that not skipping meals, eating at regular times and incorporating more nutritious foods instead of your “fast” foods will promote a healthy lifestyle and help you avoid fatigue on the road.
5. Exercise regularly:
With more and more people leading sedentary lifestyles, it’s no surprise that instances of drowsy driving are on the rise. There is a direct correlation between energy levels and how sedentary someone is. The life of a truck driver is often spent sitting behind the wheel of a truck for hours at a time. It should be very important to prioritize your health as a truck driver. If you want to stay alert and focused while behind the wheel, regular exercise is a key component. Exercise helps to improve your overall fitness level and can also help combat fatigue. When you’re feeling tired, taking a quick break to move around and get your blood flowing can make all the difference. In addition, exercise is shown to help improve cognitive function and can even increase your reaction time. So if you want to stay safe on the road, make sure to keep up with your exercise routine.
6. Take a nap:
If you’re starting to feel too tired to drive, don’t hesitate to pull over and take a nap or rest until you’re feeling better. The FMCSA recommends that naps last a minimum of 10 minutes. Ideally a nap should last up to 45 minutes and it is suggested to allow at least 15 minutes after waking up to fully recover before starting to drive again. It’s better to arrive late than not at all, so be sure to take care of yourself first and foremost.
7. Avoid medication that may cause drowsiness/fatigue:
When it comes to operating a truck there are extra precautions you need to take to stay safe. One of the main things drivers need to be aware of is what medications they are taking. Some medications, both over-the-counter or prescribed, could have side effects contributing to your drowsiness or driver fatigue. It is best to avoid medications when possible that may make you drowsy when preparing to drive a truck. Most drowsiness-inducing medications will have a warning label that states you should not operate vehicles or machinery while using it. These common drowsiness-inducing medications include tranquilizers, sleeping pills, allergy medicines and cold medicines. When starting off in the trucking industry it is best practice to have a discussion with your doctor about any medication you may be on and if it could alter your driving abilities. This should also be addressed throughout your driving career if any changes to your medications occur.
8.Recognize the signs of driver fatigue:
While on the road, it is important to recognize the signs of fatigue. Some of the common signs of fatigue are frequent yawning, heavy eyes, decrease in focus and blurred vision. If experiencing any of these symptoms, pull over and get some rest. Data shows that our bodies going 18 hours or more without sleep operates similarly to that of having a blood alcohol level that is well into the illegal limit (0.08%BAC) for operating a motor vehicle. Play it safe and pull over if you recognize the signs!
9. Do not rely on “alertness” tricks to combat fatigue.
One of the most common pieces of advice given to people that are feeling fatigue is “turn music on” . This piece of advice is believed to help refocus drivers and help them go longer. They may say “Just turn the music up longer and drive you will be good!”. However this really isn’t sound advice. Using music is what is known as an alertness trick. Other alertness tricks could include Smoking, talking with someone, drinking coffee, and opening the window. These alertness tricks may offer short term relief to your fatigue/drowsiness but they are not cures for drowsiness. Relying on caffeine and drinking a lot of coffee or soda can cause problems like insomnia, headaches, irritability and nervousness. Also rolling the window down or turning the radio up might help you feel more alert for a second, but won’t keep you alert for the long haul.
10. Get additional help if needed:
As stated several times, driver fatigue is not something to leave unaddressed. Following the mentioned tips above can be a helpful way to prevent/treat driver fatigue. On top of those tips there is some additional help available in the technology realm. There are some new and exciting technologies available to drivers to help counter driver drowsiness. Some of these technologies are described below.
- Fatigue meters – with the use of service logs drivers/owners can predict fatigue levels by estimating the driver’s sleep pattern throughout their duty periods. They can then use that data to estimate when they would experience fatigue.
- Wearables – There are several wristwatches, eyeglasses, and other Fitbit-like devices that can help track sleep patterns and other vitals that can be used to predict driver fatigue.
- Anti-fatigue headwear – With the development of smart hats (hats with sensors on the forehead) we can now detect head movement and also measure brain waves for signs of fatigue. This information can then be shared with the driver and other parties wirelessly to keep the driver informed and fight against driving fatigue.
- Smartphone tests – Using something as simple as your smartphone, drivers can conduct a psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) to help measure their cognitive alertness.
- Facial mapping – Another cool piece of tech would be the use of real time facial mapping in the cab. This system captures images of the driver’s face. With those images it can look for symptoms of fatigue. These symptoms include head nodding, gazing, drooping eyelids, yawning, and the orientation of the driver’s head.
Along with utilizing these mentioned technologies to help fight driver fatigue, If you find yourself struggling with fatigue on a regular basis, it may be time to seek professional help from your primary care provider, a sleep specialist or counselor. They can help you identify any underlying causes of your fatigue and provide guidance on how best to deal with it.
Driver fatigue is a serious issue in the trucking industry, but there are steps that can be taken to prevent it. By following these 10 tips and utilizing some great new technologies on the market, you’ll be well on your way towards combating driver fatigue and keeping yourself safe on the road.
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