Livable Cities & Resilient Infrastructure
Truck Driver Fatigue is the Greatest Occupational Challenge in new FUSO GreenLab Poll
Truck driver fatigue was voted the greatest occupational challenge, according to a new LinkedIn poll conducted by FUSO GreenLab in October.
The poll presented participants with four main challenges: driving and delivery schedules, truck driver fatigue, health and diet, and inadequate parking. Out of 534 respondents, the highest number, 44%, selected driver fatigue.
Aida Cervera, an IP lawyer from Mexico who participated in the poll, explained that one of the main contributing factors to driver fatigue is excessive demand on drivers.
“It is commonly known that in our country drivers are under pressure to meet an excessive number of rides from their employers or contractors.”
She attributes this duress to poor dietary habits, inadequate rest, substance abuse, traffic violations, and driving in poor conditions.
These difficulties are universal.
“Consequential effects of delivery schedules make driver fatigue (an issue), particularly in India,” another respondent commented on the poll.
The results were called “predictably informative.”
Driver fatigue was also identified as the top health and safety risk for the trucking sector in a workshop conducted by the Canadian government.
What is driver fatigue?
Wikipedia defines driver fatigue, AKA “drowsy driving,” as “the operation of a motor vehicle while being cognitively impaired by lack of sleep.”
While there are differences in hours of service regulations among countries and jurisdictions, fatigued driving remains a pervasive problem in the industry.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 90,000 police-reported crashes involve fatigued drivers, resulting in 50,000 people injured and nearly 800 deaths. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control reports that one in five fatal crashes involve driver fatigue.
In Canada, the Ministry of Transportation found that driver fatigue factored in 20% of police-reported truck accidents in Ontario.
A report by the European Transport Workers’ Federation found that 1/3 of truckers reported having fallen asleep at the wheel.
Long, consecutive hours behind the wheel with repetitive driving conditions make truck drivers particularly susceptible to fatigue, reducing their alertness, focus, and decision-making ability.
This in turn reduces their perception and reaction time. It takes about 3/4 of a second for a driver to recognize the need to apply the break. It takes another 3/4 of a second to move one’s foot from the accelerator pedal to the brake pedal.
Fatigued drivers are prone to react much slower.
Along with the vehicle’s speed, the above two factors determine a vehicle’s stopping distance. The greater the distance, the more likely a potential accident.
What are the top reasons for truck driver fatigue?
A Japanese study published by Sangyo Eiseigaku predictably found that the greatest levels of fatigue among truck drivers result from night and early morning driving shifts.
The report concludes, “Decreases in the quality and quantity of sleep may represent shared risk factors for health disorders and excessive fatigue among truck drivers.”
“Adequate measures should be taken to limit the amount of night and early morning work, (in order to) reduce the burden of night driving, and ensure days off for sleep opportunities and leisure activities.”
In 2020, the Canadian Infrastructure Health and Safety Association conducted a two-day workshop with drivers, supervisors, employers, and industry stakeholders to determine the main root causes of truck driver fatigue.
After identifying 66 causes, they narrowed it down to a list of five main points.
1. Traffic conditions
This includes a broad array of constraints including road closures, delays, construction zones, road design, and infrastructure.
Occupational drivers face difficulty accessing healthier food choices, lack of regular sleep and rest, and suffer from restricted physical movement for long periods.
3. Work-life balance
This includes overall stress from pressure to meet deadlines. Irregular working hours also pose challenges to safe driving by disrupting sleep cycles.
4. Monotonous driving
Long hours on open highways with monotonous scenery have a hypnotic effect that leads to drowsiness. Poor weather conditions exacerbate this. Successive days of driving also have a cumulative effect on the condition of a driver, compounding fatigue.
5. Inadequate training
License requirements don’t always provide drivers with the necessary skills to do their jobs or safely operate their vehicles. While not directly related to fatigue, a tired driver behind the wheel of a vehicle with inadequate skills is more at risk.
What does the industry do to prevent driver fatigue?
Trucking companies should have a fatigue management plan for their drivers.
The primary function is to provide risk management procedures, according to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
“These procedures provide fleets with tools and procedures necessary to achieve the fatigue-related safety objectives,” by ensuring risks are identified, assessed, managed, and evaluated.
Such a plan would include all of the familiar policies such as trip scheduling, required rest periods, methods for addressing whether drivers are suitable to drive, systems for monitoring health and safety, frameworks for reporting hazards and accidents, resources and training, etc.
Part of any plan also involves collecting fatigue-related data. Many companies are required to use electronic logging devices to track service hours. They also use GPS data to track drive time and rest breaks.
Some vehicles are equipped with smart cameras that monitor a driver’s condition and alert their dispatcher that a break is necessary.
Beyond a policy
Only truckers themselves can fully illustrate the real struggle.
“How do you handle driving that many hours a day without getting tired?” Truck Vlogger Travis Kinley asks rhetorically.
For Kinley, rest isn’t easy to get either.
“You know you only have a 10-hour break (between shifts). You take a shower, you eat. Two hours are gone. You’re not in the mood to go to sleep. You want to talk to your family. You want to watch something on TV. Whatever the case may be, you don’t just want to go to sleep. It’s either you’re going to wake up on time and be tired or sleep and be late.”
ET Transport’s video on how to deal with driver fatigue shows the desperate measure some take to stave off drowsiness. Among their tips are loudly singing music you don’t like and hanging your fingers out of the window during frigid weather.
While both vlogs offer practical tips like listening to podcasts and audiobooks, eating smaller meals, avoiding sugars and carbohydrates, and being active at rest stops, the challenge remains.
Resolving the issue
According to Cervera, providing better working conditions is the best way to help truck drivers overcome fatigue.
“I’ve met people involved in trucking, so they shared with me their experiences,” she said. “I hope the trucking industry in my country would considerably improve since I’m sure the same or similar issues are faced by the industry in other countries.”
From an employer’s perspective, managing fatigue by improving conditions will lead to a better experience for their drivers, increased driver retention, more efficient delivery, fewer accidents, and more satisfied customers.
This means providing truckers with more support. Schedule adjustments to accommodate healthy sleeping patterns and route optimization are just the beginning.