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Updated: December 17, 2019
- Drowsy driving was a factor in 91,000 police-reported crashes in 2017 (NHTSA)
- These crashes led to about 50,000 injuries and nearly 800 deaths (NHTSA)
- There were 795 deaths from drowsy-driving-related crashes in 2017 (NHTSA)
- There were 4,111 fatalities in motor vehicle crashes involving drowsy driving between 2013 and 2017 (NHTSA)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 25 drivers report that they have fallen asleep while driving in the past 30 days. Unfortunately, drowsy driving isn’t always something that drivers can just “wake up” from; it happens when a driver is so tired their brain is cognitively impaired.
Drivers may not even be able to identify when drowsy driving is occurring until it’s too late; resulting in crashes and fatalities. And, it’s all too common: the National Highway Traffic Safety Association reported that drowsy driving was a factor in 91,000 police-reported crashes in 2017 and these crashes lead to an estimated 50,000 people injured and nearly 800 deaths.
While anyone is susceptible to the effects of getting sleepy behind the wheel, long-haul and commercial drivers that spend massive amounts of time alone on the road, often in large vehicles, are particularly at risk. They often drive during nighttime, and according to the NHTSA, most drowsy driving accidents occur between midnight and 6:00 am.
The dangers of sleep deprivation for commercial drivers
The hazards of drowsy driving are very real and come with severe consequences, which is part of the reason why there are federal regulations that limit the hours of service (HOS) that drivers can log during a given time period. The facts speak for themselves:
- Driving after more than 20 hours without sleep is equivalent to driving with an over the limit blood-alcohol concentration of .08% (NSC)
- 21% of fatal crashes involve a drowsy driver (AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety / iii)
- The societal cost of fatigue-related crashes with fatalities and injuries is $109 billion (Governor's Highway Safety Administration, GHSA)
Prevent drowsy driving with driver management software
Since they are often alone on the road and drive larger (potentially more dangerous) vehicles, commercial drivers in particular need to prioritize driving safety. The right driver management software can help by sending alerts to drivers in near real time if a driver begins to engage in unsafe driving behavior, like speeding, hard braking, or harsh acceleration. Timely alerts can also help a driver realize they need to slow down or take a break, and these alerts will also be sent back to fleet managers so they can provide proactive coaching on safer driving behaviors.
Fleet managers should also encourage long-haul and commercial drivers to keep accurate notes of their sleep and rest breaks on the road using e-logging devices. Fleet managers should also consider dash cams that can alert them to any issues that arise on the road and may provide valuable insight to the state of the driver in the event of an accident.
To find out how you can give your drivers the safety tools they need and get improved visibility into their behaviors on the road, download our free eBook, Focusing on Fleet Safety.
Practical tips: How to stay alert behind the wheel
While the long-haul and commercial driving population is particularly susceptible to drowsy driving, the good news is that this behavior is entirely preventable, and it’s fairly simple for drivers to take additional precautions to help avoid it. Following are some tricks and techniques that fleet managers can discuss with their drivers to help them prevent drowsy driving:
- Stay caught up on sleep: First and foremost, drivers should start each day with a full tank of energy by establishing healthy sleep habits. About 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation.
- Hydrate with H2O: While coffee or an energy drinks provide a caffeine buzz, drinking plenty of really cold water keeps the body temperature cool and prevents drivers from feeling sluggish behind the wheel.
- Pack healthy snacks: Sweet, salty snacks should be swapped out in favor of protein-packed alternatives like almonds, sunflower seeds and fruit. Encourage drivers to pull over for a healthy meal with complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans or rice if time allows.
- Avoid substances: Drivers should never operate a vehicle under the influence of drugs, alcohol and medications that can impair judgment, delay reactions and cause drowsiness. Remind drivers to confirm with their doctor that any prescription medications they are taking do not interfere with operating heavy machinery.
- Chew gum: Evidence shows that chewing gum can help the brain stay active, keep the mind awake and even boost heart rate.
- Listen and laugh: Listening to a stand-up comedy recording that provokes laughter can help keep the brain focused and eyes on the road. Audiobooks or podcasts are also effective options.
- Smell essential oils: A quick sniff of an invigorating oil like peppermint, grapefruit or even eucalyptus will help stimulate the brain’s nervous system to keep drivers alert without the caffeine or sugar rush.
- Blast the AC: Keep the cold air flowing inside the vehicle to avoid becoming too cozy, comfortable and nodding off.
- Utilize eye drops: Staring at the road for long periods of time causes the body to forget to blink. Eye drops can prevent dryness and keep eyes moisturized.
- Rock it out: High-energy music can amp up concentration and help drivers focus on the road ahead, especially when they sing along.
- Practice positivity: Encourage drivers to pack a book of motivational or inspirational quotes in their glovebox and read it when they’re are parked and need a quick boost.
- When all else fails, pull over: Tell your drivers that as soon as they start to feel their reaction times dropping, they should pull over and take a 20-minute power nap at the nearest safe truck stop or rest station.