Fatigue is the nemesis of every long haul trucker. You feel the need (and often the pressure) to continue driving, but your mind and body are begging you for a break. Unfortunately, ignoring your body’s physical exhaustion cues and continuing to drive anyway leads to a multitude of safety issues, including inattentiveness, being more easily distracted, and slower reaction times. The decision can also be a fatal one. An average of 3,757 people die every year as a result of ‘large truck accidents’. More specifically, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 640 heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers died on the job in 2012.
Fatalities are the most important statistic, of course, but there is also a huge financial impact associated with collisions involving commercial trucks. In an average year, $87 billion is reported in losses due to accidents involving large trucks and other commercial motor vehicles. The figure breaks down as follows:
- Injury Crashes: $32 billion
- Fatal Crashes: $39 billion
- Property Damage Only Crashes: $16 billion
Avoiding the personal, emotional, physical, legal, and financial ramifications of inattentive and/or drowsy driving is paramount to any trucker. Fortunately, there are tricks you can employ while on long hauls that will help you reach your destination safely. Here are a few ideas to help you on your runs.
Follow the Law
As a professional truck driver, you already know that Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations limit your shift to 14 hours (11 driving hours), and only after a mandatory 10 hour break between driving shifts. The importance of following this law (and maintaining an accurate log) cannot be overstated. Not only will it help you to stay alert and aware while driving because you’re allowing your body to rest, but, in the event of an accident, you are also protected from accusations and charges of negligence related to being on the road too long.
Here’s a tip that will serve two safety purposes. When you start feeling like your fatigue is leading to inattentiveness, pull over and do a quick safety inspection. Take ten minutes to walk around your truck and inspect it. You already know that the undercarriage of the truck, the security of the doors, the integrity of the brakes, and the lights should all be checked on a consistent basis. The physical and mental activity will help your mind and body stay alert. Just as importantly, you confirm the reliability and continued road readiness of your truck. Fatigue is widely known to increase reaction time and lead to inattentiveness. When combined with a poorly maintained truck, the results have proven to be deadly.
Strategic Eating and Hydration
When time is pressing, it’s easy to grab and go, but salt, unhealthy fats, and sugar are not your friends on long haul routes. They lead to extreme dips in energy, which, in turn, leads to fatigue. Instead of stopping at a fast food restaurant, load up at the grocery store on plenty of water and high energy foods that contain 100% whole grains, complex carbohydrates and protein. These foods help keep blood sugar levels balanced and aid in long term stamina, which are both conducive to a safe driving experience.
Remember to stay hydrated, too. Water is an immediate energy booster that doesn’t lead to an energy dip (like caffeine). Sure, drinking a lot of it will pressure you to stop more often, but you can use that time to perform your quick ten minute safety check.
Also, keep your muscles moving while driving. Obviously, you can’t do much when you’re confined to a cab, but you can keep your jaw muscles going. It will be difficult to fall asleep when you’re chewing gum, ice (keeps you alert!), or sunflower seeds (with the shells). A little bit of dietary planning can go a long way in helping you keep your energy up and your attentiveness sharp.
Yes, it’s odd, but pinch your arm, leg or ear lobes, or rub the roof of your mouth with your tongue. These little self-annoyances will give you an irritating boost and snap you out of your sleepiness, even if for only a few minutes.
Listening to audio books or lively music are common tips to help long haul drivers stay alert. But, why not comedy, too? Who’s your favorite comedian? Load up on his or her comedy routines and listen to them while you’re driving. Laughter emits endorphins, so, not only will you stay alert, but your mood will be better, too. Your improved mood is certain to help you deal with the other drivers on the road!
The internet is loaded with tips on how to stay awake and attentive while driving long distances. The important thing is to discover which methods work best for you with the goal being to avoid becoming a statistic. Stay awake, stay alert, stay alive.
Submitted by: Nik Donovic