“Tired minds don’t plan well. Sleep first. Plan later.” Or so the expression goes. Tired minds don’t drive well, either. 

This article examines how long-term fatigue can affect driver health, safety, and retention, along with your company’s longevity.

Truck driver fatigue statistics 

According to a survey conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatigued and overworked drivers are the main reasons behind commercial truck crashes. Sadly, these crashes often result in serious injuries and fatalities.

The Truck Crash Causation Study reported more than 12,000 commercial truck crashes over nearly three years, resulting in more than 249 deaths and 1,654 injuries. Seventy-three percent of accidents involved a large truck colliding with at least one other vehicle.

“An action or inaction by the drivers of the truck or the other vehicles involved were important reasons leading to crashes in a large majority of the cases,” the study reveals. 

The data was collected through an inspection of the crash site, interviews with drivers and witnesses, driver logbooks, and other documentation. 

The study also considered police crash reports and hospital records. For each crash, data was collected based on various factors, including:

  • The condition of the drivers and the other drivers involved before the crash
  • The driver’s behavior during the crash
  • The truck’s condition
  • The condition of other vehicles involved in the crash
  • Roadway factors
  • Weather conditions 

The 33-month-long survey showed about 12,000 fatalities and injury crashes nationwide that involved at least one large commercial truck. 

The most commonly recorded reason for the crash was driver error related to:

1. Non-performance

The driver fell asleep, suffered a heart attack or seizure, or was physically impaired for another reason.

2. Recognition

The driver was inattentive, distracted by something inside or outside the vehicle, or failed to assess the situation for some other reason.

3. Decision

The driver was driving too fast for conditions, misjudged the speed of other vehicles, or followed other vehicles too closely.

4. Performance

The driver panicked, overcompensated, or exercised poor directional control.

Critical reasonsNumber of trucksPercentage

5 common contributors of driver fatigue

The most common factors that cause driver fatigue are:

  • Extended or excessive night shifts 
  • Unreasonably long hours
  • Lack of quality sleep
  • Irregular hours

If your drivers are exhausted from too many night shifts or irregular hours, offer them the ability to change their schedule. Make sure to allow drivers more time between shifts to rest up if they’ve been working too many hours and aren’t getting enough sleep. 

Fleet management software (FMS) can help fleet owners alleviate driver fatigue. To keep drivers from exceeding their allowable driving hours based on the hours-of-service (HOS) rule, provide them with an FMS. The system can track driving hours and alert a driver when they’re nearing their breaks and prevent them from being overly tired.

When your drivers are well-rested, their safety score improves since they’re more focused and can make sound judgments while on the road.

Symptoms of driver fatigue

Driver fatigue often comes undetected. Oftentimes a driver can be mentally fatigued without feeling physically tired at all, so it’s important for drivers to be aware of the signs.

Share this list of common signs of driver fatigue with your drivers:

  • Missing your exit
  • Wandering thoughts
  • Daydreaming while you’re driving
  • Cramping and feeling stiff
  • Deviating from your lane
  • Yawning excessively
  • Zoning out
  • Heavy or sore eyes

What drivers should do if they’re falling asleep 

To highlight the frequency and severity of drowsy driving, the AAA Foundation conducted a study that revealed drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Once a driver has recognized the symptoms of fatigue, it’s time to take action. 

Here are a few things drivers should do if they’re starting to fall asleep:

  • If there are other passengers in the vehicle, let someone else drive.
  • Find a safe place to park and take a 15- to 30-minute nap.
  • Stop every one or two hours to exercise and increase energy. 

The impact of fatigue on professional drivers and what it means for companies

Driver fatigue doesn’t just result in potentially harmful short-term effects. There can also be detrimental long-term effects to businesses in which fatigue is a common issue for drivers. 

Here are some of the potential impacts driver fatigue can have on companies: 

1. High turnover rate for drivers

It’s natural for people who experience regular fatigue at work to think of moving to another company.

Your drivers are no exception.

Overworked drivers will look for companies with a better work-life balance. A company that’s mindful of their driving hours, making sure they have more than enough so they get good pay, while not overextending their driving hours to the point of extreme exhaustion.

2. Lack of motivation

Fatigued drivers often fail to appreciate their peers, their work environment, and company perks because they don’t have the energy. They’re focused on getting things done so they can go home and rest, which isn’t a sustainable way of living.

Give your drivers adequate time to rest so they come to work refreshed and motivated.

3. Short-lived driving careers

Fatigued drivers often lose interest in what they do. Either they shift careers, move to another company, or even get into a road accident.

Keep your drivers safe from accidents by integrating fleet safety solutions in your fleet operations. The solution lets you track driving hours, monitor driving habits, or contact your drivers in case of emergencies through instant-messaging features, etc.

4. You’ll have a hard time finding and recruiting new drivers

Word about your company and how you treat drivers can easily spread. Companies that have a reputation for treating drivers poorly will have a hard time recruiting and retaining drivers. A damaged reputation can take a company a long time to recover from. Even companies that offer competitive salaries and benefits may still have trouble finding new drivers if they’re known for their poor working environment.

5 solutions for preventing driver fatigue

It’s best to put a stop to driver fatigue before it even starts. You can use the following tips to make sure drivers stay alert and awake while on duty. 

1. Use ELDs

ELDs help fleet managers track vehicles in real time. It can tell whether drivers took their breaks or if they’ve been on the road longer than they should. The ELD will automatically alert the drivers if they’re about to exceed their driving hours so they can take a break at the right time.

Fleet managers can also send drivers direct messages via the ELD logbook app to remind them of their breaks.

ELDs can also help fleet managers monitor poor driving habits. Since the ELD can detect instances of hard braking, sharp turns, sudden accelerations, and other harmful driving habits, managers can coach their drivers appropriately.

This information is also available to drivers for self-coaching.

2. Encourage regular medical checkups

Drivers with medical conditions such as sleep apnea can struggle with getting enough rest.

Encourage drivers to get regular checkups with their doctor for their safety and well-being. 

Checkups also help ensure drivers are fit to drive long hours and that their medical, physical, and mental conditions won’t impact their work.

3. Avoid taking performance-enhancing drugs

Some drivers take performance-enhancement drugs (PEDs) to stay awake.

PEDs can give drivers a false sense of energy, causing them to push their bodies beyond their limits and capabilities. Drivers can experience mental or physical breakdowns once the drug’s effects fade, resulting in a higher chance of accidents on the road.

4. Avoid eating too much before driving

According to Dr. Mari Carmen López of the SEAT CARS Medical Centre, large meals lead to drowsiness. While on the road, Dr. Lopez recommends “making frequent stops and eating small quantities, and after the main meal, walking around for 15 minutes or taking a nap.”

Dr. Lopez also explains that eating large meals before getting on the road can also result in abdominal pains, heartburn, and gas, all symptoms that make it difficult for drivers to concentrate.

5. Follow the Hours of Service rules

The HOS rules established by The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulate the number of hours commercial drivers may drive and work per day and week. These rules also encompass other restrictions, such as taking mandatory rest breaks.

Following the HOS rules can prevent drivers from experiencing dangerous levels of fatigue since the rule regulates their driving hours.

Fleet managers and drivers must also follow other regulations and legislation, including the sleeper berth rules. The sleeper berth rules help ensure drivers stay within their allowed driving hours and get enough rest, so they aren’t fatigued before getting back on the road.

How Motive helps with fatigue management for commercial drivers

Motive offers comprehensive fleet management solutions for drowsy driving prevention and enhanced road and driver safety.

At the center of Motive’s fleet safety solution is the easy-to-install AI Dashcam.

The AI Dashcam recognizes risky driving behavior, such as driver drowsiness, sudden lane shifts, and close following. Upon detecting a critical safety event, it triggers an alert for safety managers. This data is recorded and reflected in the DRIVE risk score, which you can use to monitor driver performance over a period of time.

The DRIVE risk score can be monitored via the Motive Safety Hub. Plus, you get real-time visibility from the AI Dashcam’s footage.

The Motive ELD solution makes it easier for fleet managers to enforce Hours of Service regulations. HOS enforcement ensures that drivers don’t overwork themselves and stay fresh, compliant with regulations, and safe.

Prevent drowsy driving with Motive

Drowsy driving is more prevalent and perilous than most trucking companies realize. It can be difficult to detect and may result in catastrophic accidents.

Motive offers robust solutions to help fleets minimize incidents of drowsy driving.

Request a free demo today to explore how Motive is increasing safety and simplifying fleet management for commercial fleets of all types and sizes.