Commentary: Fighting Driver Fatigue

Chandler Magann, president of the heavy-haul fleet Next Exit Logistics, offers practical suggestions on how truck drivers can safely manage fatigue.

Fatigue is a common problem for just about every job imaginable. The consequences of fatigue, however, are far greater for those who have a job operating motor vehicles. You put yourself and the lives of others in dangerous situations when you’re drowsy. But let’s face it, if you’re a trucker, you’ve probably drove when you really shouldn’t have. Let’s just check some facts and figures real quick.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, roughly 100,000 police-reported crashes are the result of driver fatigue on a yearly basis. Here’s the result of those crashes: 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary loss.

There are several factors that contribute to fatigue and drowsiness. Truckers drive during irregular hours–individuals are most drowsy between 12am-6am and 2pm-4pm. Truckers sleep in irregular patterns–truck drivers average about 2 hours less sleep than the ideal amount. And trucking typically results in living an unhealthy lifestyle–eating fast food and sitting on your butt all day causes fatigue. However, truckers aren’t the only ones causing crashes due to drowsiness. But are the Hours of Service enough to keep accidents down? Many drivers resent the new regulations and the fines aren’t outrageous by any means. Trucking companies can be fined $11,000 per offense while drivers themselves can receive penalties up to $2,750. Is that convincing enough to not cheat?

How can Technology Help?

Well since we live in an extremely tech-friendly world these days, why not take advantage of it to prevent future accidents? There are a few innovative solutions that may become a viable option to increase driver safety. Let’s take a look at some of potential options.

Smart Glasses; Jibo He, a psychologist at Wichita State University, is conducting research using Google Glass. He built an app called “Glass Fatigue Detector” that tracks a person’s blinking patterns and head rotation to monitor drowsiness. The app will tell the driver to pull over and take a break whenever their driving becomes irregular or dangerous. It seems like a simple solution but the technology is still being developed and perfected. He believes the technology can help reduce accidents and save lives. So do we. Let’s just hope the price of Google Glass becomes a bit more affordable. 

Smart Steering Wheels: Yes, some luxury cars already have this feature, but it’s not a uniform capability on all motor vehicles and it’s quite expensive. However, researchers at Washington State University have come up with a much cheaper solution that monitors the movements of a car’s steering wheel. After data analysis, their tests concluded that steering wheel movements and varying lane positions were the two factors that best predicted driver fatigue. The solution they came up with is using inexpensive parts that measure the position of the steering wheel. Installing the parts would be very easy and it has the potential to save lots of lives.

Driver Safety Tips

Sleep: If you are feeling drowsy, take a break. We are at our best whenever we sleep for 8 hours.

Eat healthy foods; Eating at irregular times, chowing down fast food, and not exercising can lead to drowsiness. Learn how to be a healthy trucker.

Avoid Medication That Makes you Drowsy; This is self-explanatory. Stray away from medication unless you plan on taking a long break or go to sleep.

Be Conscious of Drowsiness; If you are feeling tired or sleepy, be aware. If the feeling continues for a prolonged period, pull over and take a break. Research has shown that being awake for 18 hours is comparable to have a BAC of 0.08 percent, which is the illegal intoxication level.

Don’t Rely on Alertness Methods to Wake You Up; Screaming or slapping yourself won’t keep you up. Sure, it may help, but 5 seconds later you’ll feel just as tired. Don’t let an alertness method give you a false sense of security.

Cautiously Drink Coffee; Caffeine is a good way to keep you awake, but you should always be conscious of how much you’re drinking. If you drink too much, caffeine can cause insomnia, irritability, restlessness, and several other health problems.

Chandler Magann is the President of Next Exit Logistics, a heavy haul trucking company.

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