Sleep deprivation, or a lack of sleep, can cause severe outcomes for a truck driver. Lack of sleep can lead to many physical problems, mental health-related issues, loss of productivity, injury and even death. Your brain cannot function properly without sufficient sleep. Many human errors have been linked to sleep deficiency, including tragic road accidents.
A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that upwards of one in five adults were not getting enough sleep. The survey also revealed that nearly 40% of adults fall asleep at least once a month when they were not planning a nap. A lack of sleep significantly affects driving ability and safety. According to the National Institute for Health, driving tired has similar characteristics to driving drunk. Lack of alertness, inhibited reactions, and decreased awareness can have tragic consequences. It is estimated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that about 100,000 accidents, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 vehicular deaths can be attributed to tired or sleepy drivers each year.  A Harvard study concluded that 20% of all 18-wheeler truck accidents are due to drivers falling asleep at the wheel.
There are a lot of contributing factors to sleep deficiency:

  • Not enough hours of sleep. Experts say there is no "magic number." Not only do different age groups need different amounts of sleep, but sleep needs are also individual. Just like any other characteristic you are born with, the amount of sleep you need to function best may be different for you than for someone who is of the same age and gender. While you may be at your absolute best sleeping seven hours a night, someone else may clearly need nine hours to have a happy, productive life
  • Poor quality of sleep. You may not get the type of sleep you need. Getting sleep at the wrong time could throw your body’s clock out of rhythm. Most accidents occur between 2pm and 5pm or 2am and 6am. This has been connected to the body’s internal clock. Learn your particular internal rhythm so you can get the best sleep possible to drive safely.
  • Sleep disorder. Sleep apnea is a growing concern for over-the-road drivers. People with sleep apnea are seven times more likely to have an accident on the road. Studies have shown that obesity is the number one risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea. With approximately 73% of truck drivers being overweight and nearly 50% being obese, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has taken action. New regulations have been put into place to specifically address sleep apnea, and how it will be handled by DOT-trained medical examiners.

What are states doing to prevent drowsy driving?
New Jersey has made driving while drowsy a criminal offense. Maggie’s Law was passed as a result of a tragic accident that happened in 1997. Twenty-year-old Maggie McDonald was killed by a driver who admitted that he had been awake for 30 hours when he crossed over three lanes of traffic and hit Maggie’s car head on. His only punishment was a suspended sentence and a $200 fine. Maggie’s Law was passed in 2003 making it illegal to knowingly drive a vehicle when you are impaired by a lack of sleep. If you stay awake for 24 hours and are then involved in a fatal accident, you can be convicted of vehicular homicide. Arkansas has joined New Jersey and included fatal accidents caused by driving while drowsy in the homicide category. New York, Washington, and Oregon have introduced bills similar to that in New Jersey, but have not yet enacted them into law.
These laws are not only intended to put pressure on the person choosing to drive while sleep deprived, but also their employers. If the employer can be found to have encouraged tired driving by demanding double shifts or forcing drivers to meet deadlines, they may be held just as liable as the driver.
What can you do to lessen fatigue?
According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation, drivers with fatigue commonly use these strategies:

  • Stretch/change position (91.9%)
  • Adjust ventilation (88.4%)
  • Have a caffeinated drink (86.6%)
  • Listen to music/radio (84.8%)
  • Kick tires, walk around vehicle (84.2%)
  • Talk on cell phone/CB radio (74.4%)
  • Stop to eat a snack (63.0%)
  • Eat while driving (56.3%)
  • Stop to nap (greater than one hour) (55.7%)
  • Stop to eat a meal (53.4%)
  • Stop to rest (no sleep) (52.6%)
  • Have a non-caffeinated drink (46.4%)

76% of truckers believe if they had more control over their schedule, they would be less fatigued. Some would lessen the hours they drive, but many would simply readjust their driving schedule to their body’s optimum driving time. They would attempt to sleep regular hours. But since most cannot set their optimum driving schedules, they use the tricks listed above.  Drivers also would like to have fatigue-monitoring equipment and receive training in fatigue management, something that FMCSA is now addressing.
How do you fight fatigue and drowsy driving? Tell us in the comments below.

Comments (8)

Kim Sheffield

Kim has both graduate and undergraduate degrees in education and taught for 14 years before coming to ATBS in November 2007. Her teaching experience includes secondary, college and adult education. In addition to her education background, Kim also has six years of business experience working with small businesses in the Denver area providing advice and bookkeeping services for individual clients. When she's not at work, Kim enjoys sports, especially skiing, basketball, soccer and softball. Travel is her favorite hobby and she has traveled all over the world. Her more scholarly pursuits include reading, learning languages and lecturing in the community on current events.

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Long long ago I left a carrier push me to far and it almost cost me in a big way. Ever since then its time to stop whenever I feel sleepy even if its during the first hour. Robert said it best .... NOTHING IS WORTH IT!

September 15, 2013 20:54:39 PM

Long long ago I left a carrier push me to far and it almost cost me in a big way. Ever since then its time to stop whenever I feel sleepy even if its during the first hour. Robert said it best .... NOTHING IS WORTH IT!

September 15, 2013 20:54:07 PM

OK - Ray gotta comment on your rant. It has been a long time since I had that knock on my door-it does stink when that happens and it is hard to get back to sleep. I have long advocated for at least one "flex" day a week so that on "those" days when we could use a power nap we can take one-or simply back off 2 hours to avoid rush hour. However-I don't long for the old pre EOBR days. I have found that I no longer driver drowsy now-that the COMPANY is also responsible if I extend the HOS.

September 14, 2013 7:07:26 AM

Thank you for the comments and helpful ideas. There are always going to be circumstances that are out of your control. The key is to figure out how you can protect your health and the safety of others by getting the sleep and rest you need to be a careful and productive driver.

September 13, 2013 9:20:51 AM

I don't drive a big rig, but am frequently on the road; sometimes after being up for several hours. I have found that the "tricks" other than stopping to sleep help one temporarily. You may be able to extend your conciseness; however, your level of alertness and responsiveness is often sub-par and the "tricks" last only for a limited time. I had no idea that one could be convicted in some states due to lack of sleep.

September 12, 2013 19:25:11 PM

I'm sorry, but I have to call bull crap on a lot of this. Most of our probs come from eating the crap we are exposed to every day. 90% of the restaurants have been closed and fast food joints put in their place. Then the fact that every single night last week while in TX (4 out of 7 days) some lot lizard was beating on my door while my curtains were closed. No, I can assure you I am not looking for "company", just a good nights sleep without being woke up by crack whores!!! And also the fact that I never know if I will be driving during the day or at night. Obviously, I try to drive during the day, but sometimes that just doesn't happen. Then you have the stupid log rules where your time doesn't stop, so you don't dare stop because you just end up pushing everything forward every time you do. If you stop for an hour, it will be an hour later before your break, which means that you will be an hour later before you can start your next workday, which means by the end of the week you are almost a day behind. If you truly want a good nights sleep from here on out then you need to get out of trucking because after 18 years it hasn't gotten any easier. Okay, my rant is over with and now I shall sleep better.

September 12, 2013 12:02:56 PM

I admit it - guilty as charged. 40 years ago - at age 22 - long before I drove professionally I was driving a VW "Bug" with a rider in the passenger seat going home after graveyard shift from a job in an open pit copper mine. I woke up traveling about 60 mpg and 7 feet off the right side of the road and about 2 feet from an concrete irrigation ditch. He woke up at the same time. I was able to bring the car back on the road. " Saying Sorry" is not adequate. We never shared a ride again.

I used a life that day and it has never happened again. Don't ever let it happen to you. Nothing is worth that!

September 12, 2013 10:44:14 AM

Having a good mattress helps, having good pillows. and also keeping the sleeper dark and cool helps us to get a better nights sleep as team drivers while going down the road or when sitting.

September 12, 2013 7:29:01 AM