Usually, truck drivers to get paid based on how many miles they drive, so it’s not surprising to see how many try to travel as far as they can in as little time as they can. There are federal regulations, however, restricting how long you can drive a truck in any given 24-hour period. These rules also dictate when you must take mandatory breaks.
Even though these regulations exist on the federal level, truck driver fatigue continues to cause accidents throughout the country. The massive weight of these trucks compounds the problem, too, because you need far more distance to come to a complete panic-stop.
Truck Driver Fatigue and Federal Regulations
Currently, federal hours-of-service regulations dictate that commercial truck drivers need to follow two core rules to prevent driver exhaustion. These rules are:
The 11-hour rule: You can’t drive more than 11 hours in any given 14-hour period. You must also have had 10 hours off duty.
The 60/70 rule: You can’t work more than 60 hours in a one-week period. You also can’t work more than 70 hours in a single eight-day period. You must have 34 off-duty hours to begin a new week.
Causes of Truck Driver Fatigue
If you become fatigued while driving an eighteen-wheeler, it can only lead to tragedy. Sleep deprivation limits reaction time and other cognitive functions, according to studies. Although fatigue affects everyone, on-duty truck drivers have a substantial risk of getting into a catastrophic accident.
Truck driver exhaustion can occur due to:
- Not getting enough sleep
- Driving longer than legally permitted
- External pressure to deliver the load as quickly as possible
- Ignoring federal regulations
- Fatigue Leads to Accidents
When surveyed after a serious truck accident, 13 percent of drivers said they were fatigued.
There are multiple parties involved in running a trucking company, so it’s not always clear who is at fault for an accident. Liability can fall onto one or more parties following an injury or a fatal collision.
The Truck Driver
The first person to be investigated following a truck accident is the driver. If you find yourself at the center of an investigation, officials will examine your behavior during and before the accident. The examination is to determine whether you violated federal regulations or other laws. For example, even a small quantity of alcohol can cause impairment, which is why you aren’t supposed to have any while driving a large machine.
Investigators will also check and see if you violated the speed limit, ignored traffic signs, or failed to adhere to any other laws.
The Trucking Company
If you’re an employee to a company, the company could be at fault depending on the circumstances of the accident. The company is legally required to make sure their employees have all the necessary training and follow regulations for safety.
It is also the company’s responsibility to test its drivers regularly for alcohol or drugs.
Combating Driver Exhaustion and Truck Driver Fatigue
If the thought of the consequences of fatigue in truck drivers unsettles you, it should. It’s a situation that becomes serious very quickly. Here are a few ways you can combat fatigue on the road and keep everyone safe.
- Get enough sleep before every drive.
Every night, you need to get enough sleep. If possible, you shouldn’t drive during your body’s natural drowsy hours: between midnight and 6 a.m., and between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. too. Drowsiness impairs your response on the road, which can cause severe problems if you do end up getting drowsy while driving, find somewhere safe to pull over and catch up on sleep.
Tip: The circadian rhythm is the body’s natural wake/sleep cycle. You may have heard it referred to as your internal clock because it controls how alert you feel. If you don’t sleep enough, you get even stronger periods of drowsiness during the above hours. That means you’re at an even higher risk of causing an accident.
- Eat well.
Eating poorly or erratically can result in food cravings and severe fatigue. Sleeping right after a heavy meal or on an empty stomach can cause problems with sleep hygiene, too. The best rest occurs when you can graze a light snack right before. Again, poor rest increases fatigue, which slows your reaction time and can cause you to fall asleep.
- Take a break and take a nap.
If you feel yourself getting sleepy, you need to pull over somewhere safe and rest. If possible, take a nap that lasts more than 10 minutes and up to 45 minutes. When you wake up, you should spend 15 minutes or more waking up before continuing the drive.
Tip: Small naps restore your energy better than a cup of coffee. It’s also more useful to nap before you become drowsy.
- Don’t take medication you know makes you tired.
If you’re going to drive, you shouldn’t take any medicine that can lead to drowsiness behind the wheel. Usually, there’s a label that warns you not to operate heavy machinery while taking the contents of the bottle. You will find these on bottles like cold medicine, sleeping pills, and allergy medications.
Tip: Most cold pills can make you drowsy. If you have no choice but to drive with a cold, it’s safer for you to deal with the virus on its own than trying to treat it with medicine.
- Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of drowsiness.
If you’re drowsy, you’ll have blurred vision and heavy eyes, and you’ll yawn frequently. Pull over and take a nap.
- Avoid “alertness tricks” to keep you going.
Drinking coffee, opening the window, and turning up the radio are insufficient gimmicks to restore energy. They’re imaginary security blankets that will make you feel more confident in your drowsiness than you should.
Tip: It takes a few minutes for caffeine to give you the boost of energy you’re looking for. If you’re not drowsy when you have coffee, it might take longer to kick in than you think. Plus, if you drink coffee all the time, you might not even notice much of an effect. Drinking too much caffeine can also result in headaches and insomnia, for that matter.
Tip: You will temporarily feel more alert by turning up the radio or rolling down the window. However, these don’t restore energy in any way. You cannot maintain alertness by performing these actions. Only enough hours of healthy sleep will do this.
Staying awake behind the wheel of a truck is a massive responsibility. Fatigue and exhaustion are no laughing matter, and the risk compounds with the sheer size of the eighteen-wheeler.
By now, you know how severe the consequences can be, but let’s look at a real-world example. In 2005, a commercial truck driver fell asleep and crashed on I-94. Shortly after, a charter bus crashed into the truck, resulting in 29 injuries and five deaths. Had the truck driver been found responsible for these deaths and injuries, he would have been sentenced to 90 years in prison.