In case you could not tell by the constant running of your air conditioner, the dog days of summer are upon us. Here it is July, the very heart of the vacation season, and an ample time to remind your drivers that rest and relaxation should play an even larger role at this time of year than they usually do.
While many of your drivers remain on the road for days or even weeks at a time, the return home during these long summer days can certainly provide additional opportunities for drivers not to relax. Being busy during the summer months seems to be an understatement — with kids home from school, family gatherings, or even the long-awaited summer vacation. This type of scheduling overload can hinder driver rest and relaxation at home and could lead to increased fatigue upon a return to the highway.
A 1995 study by the National Transportation Safety Board found that approximately 74% of accidents that occurred between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. were fatigue-related, and commercial motor vehicle driver fatalities were fatigue-related in 31% of all the crashes studied. A simple Internet search reveals thousands of results on fatigue-related crashes in a commercial motor vehicle. In other words, driver fatigue has always been, and will continue to be, a battle that each driver faces on a daily basis. We need to constantly help drivers be made aware of the consequences if they do not take steps to get better rest.
Regardless of the state of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) hours-of-service regulations, the rules are designed to reduce fatigue on our roadways. Far from perfect in either current or proposed form, the regulations will only get you so far when it comes to helping a driver perform in a less fatigued way. So it is important to remind drivers that their fight against fatigue comes in their downtime away from their cabs and the road too. Drivers must focus on getting plenty of rest when home with friends and families. While it's important to have fun at cookouts or family reunions, drivers must also recognize their limitations. A long weekend with little to no sleep will certainly have its effects on the highways, so be sure to emphasize rest during your drivers' downtime.
Getting enough sleep during downtime is just the beginning. FMCSA provides additional tips to help prevent driver fatigue when operating behind the wheel of a commercial motor vehicle. Recommendations such as a healthy diet, naps and not relying on alertness tricks such as coffee, cigarettes or high radio volumes can help improve your fatigue prevention techniques and make your fleet safer.
Remember, your drivers need to be aware of the signs of fatigue and efforts to combat them on the roadways; however, as fleet owners and managers, be sure to emphasize fatigue prevention in your drivers' time off as well. While many techniques stake claims as fatigue reducers, nothing works better than adjusting for bad habits and developing new routines for leading a less stressful life in a relaxing environment. As fleet owners and managers, this could be yet another positive step toward laying the groundwork to improve your already safe track record of operating on our nation's highways.
David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn. He is responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to [email protected].