In September, we wrote a featured article discussing sleep deprivation and driver fatigue as a major cause of commercial truck accidents. That post revealed some astonishing and worrying statistics– drivers who needed seven hours of sleep per day were averaging less than five hours of rest, and over half (56%) of truck drivers studied experienced periods of drowsiness while behind the wheel.
Sleepiness behind the wheel can have dangerous consequences. According to SleepHelp.org, fatigue contributes to 13% of all trucking accidents. Though long-haul truck drivers are most likely to face driver fatigue, all kinds of motorists encounter drowsiness on the road. In fact, In 2016, most motorists in the U.S. over the age of 16 spent an exhausting 50.6 minutes driving every day on average.
Whether you operate commercial vehicles or are just a regular citizen trying to be safer on the road, use the following tips to stay alert while behind the wheel.
Step One: Get Enough Sleep!
While getting enough rest each night can be a scheduling challenge for commercial drivers and shift workers, regularly getting a full night’s (or day’s) sleep is absolutely essential to safe driving performance. Lack of sleep has physical impacts on the brain and the body that impair judgment, movement, and fine motor skills. Much like alcohol intoxication, sleeplessness can lead to slower reaction times, reduced ability to concentrate on tasks, and even nodding off. Work with your schedule to get at least seven hours of rest every night, and try to go to sleep and wake up at similar times whenever shifts allow.
Step Two: Take Breaks
Research shows that symptoms of fatigue and drowsiness are higher when an individual has been performing the same task for an especially long period of time. Boredom and waning concentration encourage the brain to trigger sleepiness chemicals. Try switching up your driving routine to incorporate more breaks and different ways to keep the brain engaged. Listen to a podcast, and stop at rest stops every couple of hours, even if the stop is just to stand up and walk around for a few minutes. No matter how many breaks you take, avoid driving for more than eight or ten hours a day.
Step Three: Care for Your Overall Health
A big step towards a balanced sleep routine and alertness while working is to make sure your body is well cared for. A good diet and physical activity can help the body function optimally, meaning better focus when awake, and better quality sleep at night. If you take medications, make sure that you take the correct dosages at the correct time, and avoid using medicines that induce drowsiness.
Preventing driver fatigue requires diligence. Work with your employer and your schedule to ensure you have enough time to rest properly between driving shifts. Also, remember to take breaks and care for your overall health to stay focused and safe on the road.