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Most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving but don’t realize that drowsy driving can be just as fatal and likely happens more often than we think. Like alcohol, fatigue impairment slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment, and increases the risk of crashing. If you’ve ever been tired and driven to a destination, but don’t really remember the journey or the route you took — that could be fatigue impairment. It is widely understood that driver fatigue is a serious issue for commercial vehicle drivers. Under the Motor Vehicle Transport Act, Transport Canada is responsible for the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations. However, while central to the mitigation of fatigue and fatigue management, HOS rules need to be complemented by additional programs and adopted by the industry. Fatigue is a general term commonly used to describe the experience of being “sleepy,” “tired,” “drowsy,” or “exhausted.” While all these terms have different meanings, they tend to be used interchangeably in the transportation field.

What is fatigue impairment?

Given the long hours that commercial truck drivers tend to spend on the road and the high amount of commercial truck traffic on our roads, it is no wonder that driver fatigue is one of the biggest problems facing the carrier industry these days. It is essential that trucking companies and drivers do what they can to prevent driver fatigue. When a driver is fatigued, the driver is impaired. Driving while impaired by fatigue can have tragic results, just like driving when impaired by alcohol or drugs. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) Fatigue Fact Sheet indicates that one in five motor vehicle collisions is related to fatigue.

What are the causes of fatigue?

Fatigue is the progressive reduction in physical and mental alertness which leads to sleepiness and sleep. Fatigue becomes problematic when it compromises a driver’s reflexes and ability to concentrate or use judgment. Some of the effects can be: Decreased vigilance, concentration, and attention;

  • Altered judgment and the quality of decisions affected;
  • Decreased and slow reaction time;
  • Affected memory; and
  • Increased sleepiness and periods of micro-sleeps (lasting 4 to 6 seconds).

Most of the time fatigue can be traced to one or more habits or routines, particularly lack of sleep or exercise.

Fighting driver fatigue

Some of the precautions a driver can take to combat fatigue include:

  • Avoiding the operation of a vehicle beyond the allowable driving time.
  • Making frequent rest stops. Any activity that substitutes a different physical act for the monotony of driving helps to refresh the driver.
  • Drinking coffee or water as they may sharpen a driver’s senses. But note that caffeine is not a cure for fatigue.
  • Avoiding the use of drugs, even over-the-counter medications, for alertness. Certain commonly used drugs may increase alertness and efficiency for a short period, but may often be followed by headaches, dizziness, agitation, irritability, decreased concentration, or hallucinations.

Are you effectively managing driver fatigue?

Fleet managers bear the ultimate responsibility of protecting drivers and ensuring road safety for others as well. They must strategically solve driver fatigue problems.

Here are initiatives that you can implement to help mitigate driver fatigue:

  • Set limits on overtime and maximum allowable consecutive shifts;
  • Offer comprehensive training regarding sleep health and fatigue management;
  • Develop a sleep disorder screening and management program;
  • Make sure drivers get enough breaks during extended work shifts;
  • Encourage self-reporting by providing supervisors and drivers with checklists for fatigue symptoms;
  • Monitor for fatigue-related symptoms and encourage peer-to-peer monitoring, too; and
  • Keep tabs on data from in-vehicle monitoring systems – it helps to identify signs of possible fatigue, like lane departures, irregular speeding, etc.

Your incident investigators should be trained, too, so they can determine the role of fatigue if any accident occurs, even in near-miss incidents.

Key to remember: Driver fatigue is much more than a little tiredness or feeling sleepy. Implementing initiatives to combat driver fatigue is a must for motor carriers. It’s critical to ensure your business runs safely.