Driver fatigue is the most common contributing factoring trucking accidents. It is estimated that fatigue is involved in about 40% of these accidents. Combating fatigue is a constant issue for truckers and lawmakers, but a good solution has yet to be found.
Hours of service
Hours of service (HOS) regulations dictate how much time a trucker can spend driving, and how often and how long they must take off. The goal is to eliminate fatigue, but so far, these laws have not been successful. Why these laws don’t work is a complicated issue involving fierce competition in the trucking industry, and the nature of sleep itself.
HOS regulations state that drivers can drive for 10 consecutive hours and then must take a 10 hour break. They are allowed no more than 60 hours of driving in seven days or 70 hours in eight days, with a period of 34 consecutive hours off each week.
These rules are not flexible. If a truck driver gets sleepy after three hours of driving, he can’t just take a nap and continue with the remaining seven hours. He loses legal driving time if he stops to rest. So, he has to make a choice between taking a nap or getting his load delivered on time.
Rigid HOS rules also overlook the fact that people simply can’t sleep on command. Many factors can interfere with a truck driver’s ability to sleep during their allotted time off, including natural sleep cycles, lack of adequate truck parking, and trying to sleep in noisy areas. Sleep debt is cumulative. Drivers become more fatigued as their work week wears on which increases the possibilities of a truck accident.
Lack of sleep is not the only cause of fatigue. Poor sleep and other stressors contribute. Factors which cause truck driver fatigue include:
- Unrealistic schedules
- Irregular schedules
- Physical work in between driving hours
- Trying to sleep during the day
- Lack of truck parking
- Trying to sleep in noisy conditions
- Night driving
- Monotonous driving
- Bad traffic
- Hot weather
- Weather conditions which cause poor visibility
- Health problems
- Poor eating habits
- Sleep disorders
- Problems at home
Truck drivers try any number of substances to fight fatigue. Some stick with legal remedies such as coffee or ephedrine. Others delve into cocaine and methamphetamines. Legal or illegal, stimulants cannot replace sleep and create a false sense of alertness. Drugs, such as methamphetamines, can create paranoia and confusion, and dangerously impair judgment.
On the other end of the spectrum, drivers who need to sleep but can’t often drink alcohol or take sleeping pills. Even when they do this long before getting behind the wheel, the residual effects can impair their driving, and they often do not get quality sleep. Truck driver intoxication, of all types, is often closely tied to fatigue.
Trucking companies compound the fatigue problem by creating unrealistic schedules. With little or no regard for HOS rules, their drivers’ health and safety, or the safety of others on the road, they push drivers to deliver loads on a deadline which forces them to break the law either by speeding, violating HOS rules, or spending their designated rest time loading and unloading their trucks.