Imagine you’ve been driving since 6 a.m. It’s after 4 and the sun is slowly drifting to the horizon…the radio d.j. is rambling on in a deep, soothing voice…the monotone hum of your tires on the highway begins to lull you…closing your eyes would feel so good…just for a second…
For truckers, getting enough sleep isn’t just a health issue, it’s a safety issue. According to an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Analysis, 7% of all crashes and 16.5% of all fatal crashes involve drowsy driving. Driving after 20 hours without sleep is the equivalent of a DUI as if you had a blood-alcohol count of 0.08% which is the legal limit. Falling asleep behind the wheel is a real danger for truckers and the solution for fatigue isn’t as simple as drinking some coffee. Sure, a bit of caffeine might wake you up but the effects are short-lived. When you have caffeine and are in need of sleep, you may actually experience “microsleeps” which is when you actually fall asleep for 3 or 4 seconds. If you think nodding off for a few seconds isn’t a big deal, the next time you’re driving on the highway, take note of the great distance your vehicle travels in 4 seconds when traveling at 55MPH. It’s easily enough time to cause a serious accident.
The FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) sets driving limits for truckers in order to avoid accidents due to fatigue. The limits are on hours you can drive after the required number of off duty hours and how many hours you can drive per week. They can be found at the FMCSA’s website here.
Even following the guidelines, it’s easy to become drowsy while driving. There’s much talk about driverless trucks and their potential to take over the trucking industry but the technologies they’ve brought about can be used today to make driving a truck safer for current drivers. Things like blind spot detection, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warnings are technologies that could solve or lessen the problem of driver inattention.
Without those, protecting yourself against drowsiness is the first line of defense. Getting a good night’s sleep is the best place to start. For many drivers, sleeping on the road can be difficult. Everything is different than the comforts of your own bed and things like lights, sounds, smells, or movement and vibrations that are foreign to you can keep you awake. Eating unhealthy foods on the road can also inhibit sleep.
Here are some tips on getting a good night’s sleep on the road:
- Sunshades, curtains, or blankets can be used to block any light that might interfere with sleep.
- Reading a book before bed or listening to calming music can help relax you but you should avoid screen time.
- Earplugs are a great way to block out the noises of a busy truck stop.
- If you have to get up in the middle of the night, it’s helpful to keep things as dark as possible.
- Parking away from other vehicles when you plan on sleeping can help reduce noise.
- If you turn down the volume on any electronic devices you may have, you won’t be awakened by alarms or notifications during the night.
- A white noise machine is helpful in blocking out background sounds by emitting a consistent sound.
- Fresh air is great for sleeping and by using window screens, you can let the fresh air in and keep the bugs out.
- Smells can wake you up too so you should try to avoid parking next to dumpsters, portable toilets, or anything smelly.
- Sleeping when it’s dark helps your body’s internal clock working properly.
- Sleep apnea can keep you from getting a restful sleep. If you suffer from it, you should see your doctor for help.
- Natural sleep aids are a preferable choice to pharmaceutical ones.
- If you park where you shouldn’t, someone could wake you in the middle of the night to ask you to move.
- If you’re drowsy during the day, try a 15-minute power nap might be enough to re-energize you.
- Exercise is beneficial to sleep but if your workout is close to bedtime, it’s important to leave a little time to cool down and relax.
Resting your body is an important part of your job as a trucker. Driving for hours can take a physical and mental toll on your body but by keeping in shape and giving your mind and body the rest that it needs, you’ll be better equipped to do your job safely.