How to Maximize Uptime while Minimizing Driver Fatigue


By Diane Tait

Image courtesy of wikimedia
If it’s one thing that all truckers can agree on, it’s the importance of maximizing uptime without sacrificing safety.  The ability to earn a living behind the wheel is only as good a driver’s ability to get hired.  While employers want to get their goods to market as quickly as possible, nobody wants to employ a driver that puts their cargo at risk.  Likewise, no insurance carrier wants to carry a driver on the books with moving violations or accidents on their record.  This puts truckers in the unenviable position of trying to balance time on the road with the hazards inherent to highway driving.  One of the biggest hazards that truckers face is driver fatigue.

Biology Trumps the Call of the Open Road

One of the hurdles that truckers face is dealing with their internal clock.  Whether they want to admit it or not, driving during the hours you normally sleep is an occupational hazard.  More than one fifth of vehicular road fatalities in the USA are caused by drivers who fall asleep at the wheel.  Like it or not, your body is hard-wired to sleep at night.  Chemicals build up in your brain that trigger drowsiness.  Research has proven that staying awake for 18-hours is comparable to having a blood-alcohol content of .08 percent.  While your biology is one of the prime drivers for causing fatigue, it isn’t the only one.  Others include:

1.      White Line Fever – It’s a fact that once the sun goes down and the headlights come on, eyestrain increases fivefold.  The white lines on the black highway flicking past you can also set up a rhythm that becomes hypnotic as the miles roll by.    Add to this the hum of the air conditioner and the thrum of the tires turning on asphalt ant it’s quite easy to zone out behind the wheel.  Called Highway Hypnosis by G.W. Williams in 1963, the phenomenon has been putting drivers of all kinds into a state of altered consciousness ever since the interstate highway system was invented.

Image courtesy wikimedia
2.      Dangers on Your Dashboard – You may have noticed that the dashboard has gotten a lot busier in your truck during the past few years.  Before the turn of the century, the biggest piece of trucking technology drivers had to deal with was a CB radio.  The 21st Century has seen an explosion in onboard technology.  Today’s truck drivers have to deal with everything from GPS and trip computers, to dashcams and infotainment systems, all of which vie for their limited attention.  A January 2019 blog posted on TruckingInfo.com, had this to say:
      There is such a thing as too much information in a dynamic work environment like an airplane cockpit (or a truck cab). It’s human nature to want to give people as much information as possible. But, given the average human being’s ability to simultaneously process data from multiple sources, it’s clear that there’s a very thin line between actionable intelligence and information overload. https://www.truckinginfo.com/322147/safety-verses-saturation

3.      Double Dipping – It’s one thing to drive long distances while on the job.  It’s another to drive long distances to the job.  If you routinely commute long distances before climbing behind the wheel of a semi, you could be putting your safety at risk.  This factor has garnered the attention of the FMCSA, which began surveying drivers a year ago about long commutes to and from the job.  While the agency regulates the number of hours truckers spend behind the wheel during a haul, they don’t regulate how much additional time they spend commuting to their job.  This has become an issue, since there have been a number of crashes caused by this kind of behavior.  A 2018 blog by overdriveonline.com reported:
A high-profile crash on the New Jersey Turnpike in 2014, which killed comedian James McNair and severely injured actor Tracy Morgan, also shed light on the potential for long commutes by truckers to undermine hours of service limits. Truck driver Kevin Roper, who allegedly fell asleep at the wheel before rear-ending Morgan’s Mercedes Sprinter Van in June 2014, had commuted 800 miles from Georgia to Delaware the morning before beginning his on-duty driving period for Walmart’s private fleet. The National Transportation Safety Board said Roper’s fatigue was the key cause of the crash.  https://www.overdriveonline.com/dot-surveying-truckers-on-personal-vehicle-commute-times/

image courtesy of pxhere
4.      Ignoring the Symptoms of Fatigue – One of the biggest mistakes that a driver can make is to ignore the symptoms of fatigue.  Or worse, they try to mask the symptoms by turning up the radio, opening the window, drinking coffee or energy drinks.  While these tactics may work for a short time, they are all but useless over the long haul.  In fact, they may give the driver a false sense of security that could prove deadly.  Read what FCMSA posted on its own blog below:
On October 16, 2005 at 2 a.m., a 23-year-old CMV driver fell asleep behind the wheel, causing him to enter a ditch and eventually roll his truck over on both west-bound lanes of Interstate 94. Minutes later, a charter bus carrying a school band crashed into the truck killing 5 and injuring 29 others. As a result of the crash, the CMV driver was charged with 5 counts of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle and 29 counts of reckless driving that caused great bodily harm. If convicted, he could have faced nearly 90 years in prison. https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety/driver-safety/cmv-driving-tips-driver-fatigue

The keys to maximizing uptime while minimizing fatigue include such common-sense tips as eating right and avoiding any medication that may induce drowsiness, not to mention not only recognizing, but acknowledging signs of fatigue.  While pulling over to take a 45-minute nap might set your schedule back a bit, winding up in a ditch or causing a multi-vehicle accident isn’t going to win you any brownie points from either your employer or your insurance company.  In fact, it could land you in jail.  Take care how and when you drive, if you want to arrive alive.
 
Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can arrange for an insurance evaluation, go to her site or fill out the form at right.

Comments

  1. With all the technology that vehicle manufacturers have come up with lately, you think they'd find a solution to help keep drivers from nodding off at the wheel.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I for one will be happy when all semi truck include driver assist and warning system in them to help the driver and stay safe.

    ReplyDelete

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