The Last Word: Keeping our head in the game

by Al Goodhall

DriversYou can make sure your phone is in airplane mode when you drive, never snack when you’re behind the wheel, always have both hands on the wheel, and yet still be a distracted driver.

Keeping your head in the game is the greatest challenge professional drivers face when it comes to keeping ourselves and everyone around us safe from harm. It’s a delusion to believe we can focus solely on the task of driving when behind the wheel, or that the solution to this challenge is mandated rest.

I firmly believe that road safety starts with the right attitude in your head. For example, you shouldn’t be driving if you’re filled with any destructive emotion such as anxiety, anger, or depression. The same applies if you are experiencing fatigue, burn-out, or exhaustion.

But is that even possible in the world that commercial drivers’ move in? How many of you professional drivers reading this have made it through a week without experiencing at least one of the physical or emotional factors I alluded to? And what do you do, if anything, about it?

I’m pretty sure that every dispatch office – as well as every shipping and receiving office – has experienced the angry, irate, or emotionally-charged truck driver. Very often, we drivers are a pressure cooker filled with nuggets of emotion stewing in a broth of fatigue. Woe betide the dispatcher or shipping clerk that pops open the lid without backing off the pressure first.

Having a fellow driver you can call and just shoot the breeze with when anxiety and fatigue start to take hold is important. I’m no psychologist, but I know that talking to someone who shares your same experience and background in the industry is a fantastic way to change the channel in your head.

Often, that is all that you need to dissipate the anger or frustration you are feeling. It’s a simple way of releasing that pressure you’re experiencing. In the two decades that I’ve been trucking, I have never sat in a safety meeting that has discussed the everyday emotional challenges that drivers – especially longhaul drivers – face with any great depth.

The closest to this topic we ever seem to get is when employee benefits are discussed and employee assistance programs are on the agenda.

But what about fatigue, weariness, exhaustion, and burn-out? Well, to be honest, those are things we only talk about in terms of hours-of-service regulations and drivers know those rules are not a magic elixir to eliminate fatigue.

So, in my opinion, distracted driving results from the debilitating emotional and physical responses we experience as a result of the work we do. You get emotionally charged, or fatigued, or both, and your mind wanders off to deal with those issues. Your head is no longer in the game. You are now experiencing a much higher level of risk and you probably aren’t aware of it.

Eighty per cent of ongoing driver training (if you get any training, that is) should be learning about how to keep your head in the game and how to recognize the emotional and physical factors within yourself that put you at an increased level of risk. I think this is the most important step towards improving the dismal safety record within our industry.

I’m raising this topic because for the last several months, I have been feeling a heightened level of anxiety and burn-out. As a result, I have become hypersensitive to requests from the folks in operations that place any additional demand on my time, even if those requests are reasonable and not at all unusual, which is the majority of the time.

I have a high degree of respect for the people I work with. I’ve worked with many of them for more than 16 years now, so the last thing I want to do is act like a jerk and be disrespectful or unreasonable.

How our mental well-being affects our personal safety and the safety of others on the job, is a huge topic. I think workplace safety in the trucking industry deserves a driver’s point of view from the front lines.

Hopefully I can bring you some of that perspective over the next several months with a break here and there for any hot topics that grab my attention. Be aware and be safe out there drivers.

Al Goodhall has been a professional longhaul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at www.truckingacross You can follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall

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