Driving while fatigued can be a common occurrence for long-haul truck drivers, and studies have shown it can be as problematic as driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.1 Yet almost a third of people in a AAA survey said at least once in the prior month they had driven while so tired that they could barely keep their eyes open.2
Sleep deprivation can have similar effects on your body as drinking alcohol. According to the National Sleep Foundation, if you’ve been awake for 24 hours, that’s equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of .10 (.08 is considered legally drunk). Being awake for 18 hour straight makes you drive as if you have a blood alcohol level of .05, according to the foundation.3
Though it can be difficult to measure the frequency of drowsy driving accidents — because there’s no easy test for it, as there is for blood alcohol content— a 2018 AAA study, which analyzed video of drivers just before a crash, found that 9.5 percent of accidents were caused by sleepy drivers.3
Sixty percent of adults in the U.S. have driving while drowsy and around one-third of people have actually fallen asleep at the wheel.3
Increased crash risk
Truck drivers who are frequently fatigued may be at increased risk for getting into accidents, according to a study by the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Utah School of Medicine.4
The study surveyed 797 truckers and found that both high pulse pressure and fatigue were highly associated with crash risk. The researchers noted that many of the negative aspects of truck driving, including stress, long hours, heavy lifting, and lack of sleep and exercise, could contribute to both conditions.
Management and tips
Ron Knipling, a fatigue and truck safety researcher and author of the truck-safety textbook, “Safety for the Long Haul,” said, “The way to approach fatigue management is in terms of health, diet, exercise, lifestyle and conscientious self-management; not externally imposed rules.”6
The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults sleep seven to nine hours per day, but a survey found that 30 percent of employed adults averaged sleep duration of six hours or less.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recommends the following tips to fight fatigue7:
- Get enough sleep before getting behind the wheel.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Take naps.
- Avoid medications that may cause drowsiness.
- Know signs of drowsiness and take action: frequent yawning, heavy eyes, and blurred vision.
- Don’t rely on “alertness tricks”: behaviors such as smoking, turning up the radio, drinking coffee and opening the window are not real cures for drowsiness and may give you a false sense of security.