Why are Truck Drivers at Such High Risk for Driving While Drowsy?

By Logan Quirk

Commercial trucks charge down the road to deliver the products needed to keep a healthy economy moving. These truck drivers keep the nation stocked with everything from sneakers to fresh fruits and vegetables. But, hours spent behind the wheel take their toll. The fight against fatigue and drowsiness are real, but the structure and nature of the trucking industry push many drivers to work past their physical limits, putting themselves and others in danger.

Effects of Drowsy Driving

Heavy-lidded blinks, yawning, lane drifting, and missing exits are only a few of the dangerous side effects of driving while drowsy. Truck drivers, with their heavy loads and sometimes hazardous cargo, pose a significant danger if they’re driving while fatigued.

The body just wasn’t meant to function without sleep for hours on end. Adults need seven to eight hours of sleep every night to stay healthy and maintain regular reaction times. Without it, drivers can suffer from:

  • short-term memory loss
  • slowed reaction times
  • mood changes and an increase in aggressive behavior
  • difficulty processing information

Imagine a driver with these impairments behind the wheel of a large commercial truck; the danger of a sleep-deprived truck driver becomes apparent. Of the nearly 72,000 accidents caused by drowsy driving each year, there are over 800 deaths. Those accidents that don’t result in death may lead to traumatic brain, back, and neck injuries that can cause lifelong disabilities.

Nature of the Job Doesn’t Promote Good Sleep

The trucking industry has been regulated since 1939; new regulations appear when accidents or trouble arise. But the very nature of trucking goes against many of the recommendations for good sleep. The goal to transport as many goods as possible in the shortest amount of time doesn’t focus on the health and safety of the drivers or other drivers who may be on the road.

The best sleep conditions, such as a consistent bedtime, comfortable mattress, cool temperatures, and quiet conditions can be hard to find while out on the road. Many drivers sleep in their cabs in a new location each night. Getting the rest needed for the deep sleep that gets the mind and body at peak performance can be hard to come by while focusing on traveling a maximum amount of miles.

Disregard for Regulations

Truck drivers have a 14-hour work period in which they are allowed to drive for 11 hours. The other three hours are supposed to be used for periodic rest throughout the day. Drivers are required to take one 30-minute break. How to spend the remaining portion of the three hours is up to the discretion of the driver.

Regulations are also in place to help limit the number of truck drivers on the road between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. to help drivers maintain a more normal sleep cycle. The rules are meant to provide better sleeping patterns, but they also go against many common practices of the drivers, who find themselves pressured to meet tight deadlines.

Some drivers are paid by the mile. The more miles they travel in a day, the more money they make. Others record and report their hours themselves, leaving it up to the honesty of the driver whether or not to follow regulations. Tight deadlines, rushed orders, or a need for more money may tempt an honest driver to push past safe limits.

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