Strategies to fight driver fatigue go beyond Hours of Service

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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 slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment, and increases the risk of a crash.

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 have been fatigue impairment.

Under the Motor Vehicle Transport Act, Transport Canada is responsible for Hours of Service (HOS) regulations. However, while central to mitigating and managing fatigue, HOS rules need to be complemented by additional programs adopted by the trucking industry.

Driver fatigue
Driver fatigue has long been considered a major cause of truck crashes. (Photo: iStock)

What is fatigue impairment?

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.

Given the long hours that commercial truck drivers tend to spend on the road, and the high volume of commercial truck traffic on those roads, it is no wonder that driver fatigue is one of the biggest problems facing the carrier industry these days. So, 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. And driving while impaired by fatigue can have tragic results. 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, leading to sleepiness and sleep. It becomes problematic when it compromises a driver’s reflexes, judgment, and ability to concentrate. Some of the effects can be:

  • Decreased vigilance, concentration, and attention;
  • Altered judgment and the quality of decisions;
  • Decreased and slowed reaction time;
  • Affected memory; and
  • Increased sleepiness and periods of micro-sleeps, which last four to six seconds at a time.

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

Here’s a 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.

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Mark Samber is JJ Keller’s industry business advisor – Canada.

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  • Some days I feel well enough and could drive way more than the 11h limit, whereas other days I feel like 8h is enough, mostly due to bad roads, heavy traffic, etc. that increases overall fatigue. Yet the HOS coerces me into always driving the same number of hours regardless. HOS should be more flexible overall, and completely free for experienced (10+ years) safe drivers. They serve no purpose except increasing the stress level when not everything goes according to plan. More importantly they are detrimental to safety because it acts as an incentive for unsafe driving in order to beat the clock. Safety advocates should be more sensitive to this aspect.

  • With the new HOS ELD rules drivers operating in day cabs usually returning to base at shift end are now pressured to drive while overly tired for fear of being stranded and requiring a second driver to finish the move. Some days I could go 16hrs easy however there are times when I just need a break. I would get off the highway and take a nap at the wheel or if there’s a bench seat, stretch out for a bit even for a half hour. I wake up feeling great and finish my run. With the new system you are on a clock that cannot be adjusted. You can easily spend 4-6 hours of your day just getting back and forth through Toronto so you leave at 4am to avoid the rush. Now your on your return leg and you didn’t get as much sleep as you prefer, you just need a break, but if the 401 is a mess you know you might time out if you take a break. There is no provision for a nap in a day cab so you push on. Everyone pushes on. With paper logs you could fudge a little. With ELD its not today you will go to hell, its two weeks later or whenever you are audited. You, your company and your cvor can be ruined if you go over just once regardless of how many days you had off previous. If you have a run you know could hit delays, you don’t take lunch, stop for coffee, a pee, nothing just keep the hammer down tired or not So you do run out of time. When you know you will not make it back to base you call ahead. They send a driver out to meet you and then what do you do? You jump into a non ELD vehicle and drive merrily home with no restrictions. I understand there was abuse in the system that needed to be addressed however this is not a one size fits all solution. There will be tired drivers out there risking everything to beat the clock but as long as you log out on time so its all good? Its not all good.