Fatigue can have deadly consequences for truck drivers. According to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 16.5% of all fatal motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. involve a fatigued driver. In 2012, a truck driver was sentenced to 5 years in prison because he fell asleep while driving his truck in Ohio. A woman was killed and her two sons suffered serious injuries when his truck hit their car. Police say the driver’s triple-tractor trailer smashed into the woman’s car and careened into 5 other vehicles. This is not the only incident in which an operator of a commercial vehicle has been sentenced for falling asleep at the wheel and killing someone or seriously injuring themselves or other motorists.
It’s important for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers to understand fatigue and the risks of driving when you are tired. Don’t let yourself – or others you care about – be affected by a devastating accident. Many people think that fatigue is not real, and is a sign of laziness that can be overcome with enough willpower. However, fatigue affects everyone, and can be defined as the state exhaustion or tiredness associated with activity, exertion, working too many hours in a row, staying up too many hours in a row or a lack of sleep.
The risk for fatigue is high when you work too many hours per day or per week, your schedule is unpredictable and you don’t know when you’re going to work or how long you will be working, you work hours outside of a typical 9-5 schedule on either fixed or rotating shifts. How do you know if you’re fatigued? These are all signs that you are tired.
· Rubbing your eyelids
· Keep yawning or blinking
· Feel like you have heavy eyelids, or
· Find your head nodding or dropping.
There are many causes for fatigue, including:
· Not getting enough sleep
· Going against your body clock, or
· Sleep disorders.
Most people think that sleepiness (or drowsiness) is only due to lack of sleep. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a common sleep disorder that occurs more frequently in CMV drivers. OSA occurs in 5 out of 100 people in the general population; 28 out of 100 CMV drivers have OSA. OSA can cause an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.
If you have OSA, you may have some or all of these symptoms:
· loud snoring
· awaking with gasping or choking
· feeling tired even though you slept for the whole night
· morning headaches
· daytime sleepiness and fatigue
· trouble remembering things
· feeling “foggy” or irritable
· decreased sex drive or sexual difficulties
If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea there are several different treatments used. It is important to treat sleep apnea because treatment improves fatigue and reduces the risk for chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. Studies show that CPAP treatment reduces your risk for vehicle crashes in people with OSA.
Insomnia is another sleep disorder that affects about 1 in 3 Americans every year. (National Institute of Health) If you experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep for more than a week or two, see your doctor. Available treatments include prescription and over-the-counter medication.
Other sleep disorders for which treatment is available include restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy. All types of sleep disorders can be treated. Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble:
· falling asleep
· staying asleep, or
· staying awake.
Sleep loss can cause impaired performance as well as long-term health issues. Some strategies you can use to manage fatigue include:
· well-timed sleep breaks,
· managing off-hour responsibilities, and
· improving your sleep environment.
Studies show that people in general are not good at judging their level of tiredness. (National Center for Biotechnology Information) As you become more fatigued, it becomes more difficult to assess the current situation and determine how well you are functioning. Fatigue can cause a slow reaction time, impaired driving, trouble paying attention and difficulty learning and remembering.
AAOO is dedicated to helping commercial motor carrier owner-operators live a healthier life and that includes avoiding an accident due to fatigued driving. Start living a healthier, wealthier lifestyle today by joining AAOO.