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Combating Manager Fears – How to Tackle Driver Fatigue

Data Blocks
Data Blocks

In our second installment of the blog series, Combating Manager Fears, we examine a new university study that is helping keep America’s drivers safe on the job. 

Drowsy or fatigued driving kills 800 people a year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It’s no wonder fleet managers are concerned for their driver’s well-being. And with help from Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), there may be a possible solution to calm fears.

According to VTTI’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety, the first step in combating driver fatigue is to understand the issue at its core.

Fatigue is not the same as sleepiness. Although fatigue often comes from sleep deprivation, it is also possible to become fatigued from monotony or eye strain. Although many drivers are chronically under-slept, getting only three or four hours of sleep per night (the average person needs twice that), a driver who gets plenty of sleep can also be fatigued. And while sleepiness often goes away if the driver opens the window or turns on some exciting music, fatigue is not so easily banished; just because a person no longer feels sleepy does not mean he or she is safe to drive.

Most dangerous is chronic fatigue, the result of several days on end of overwork and minimal sleep. The deficit becomes cumulative, too deep for coffee or a quick nap to touch. Even if the driver feels relatively normal, he or she may still be impaired, exhibiting poor judgment, poor performance, and even tunnel vision. Fatigued driving can be as serious as drunk driving.

In addition to insufficient sleep, risk factors for fatigue on the job can include long hours behind the wheel, either heavy traffic or very light traffic, driving during times when the body is naturally primed for sleep, and driving alone.

So what is being done to combat fatigue?

VTTI has spent years on a collaborative effort to develop the North American Fatigue Management Program (NAFMP) for the trucking industry. The result is a group of educational materials aimed at drivers, carriers, shippers, receivers, dispatchers, and even drivers’ families. Preliminary results look promising; participating groups show definite improvements in how much sleep each driver gets as well as reductions in the number of unsafe incidents that could be the result of fatigue.

But for programs such as NAFMP to really be successful, fleet managers across the industry may need to reevaluate their fleet and company culture.

A driver might not realize how dangerous fatigue is or how deeply tired he or she has become, but fatigue is uncomfortable. Nobody gets into that state, let alone stays there, without some kind of incentive.

For drivers, all too often, that incentive comes, directly or indirectly, from the demands of the job.

Fleet managers can provide critical assistance by restructuring policies and even company infrastructure so as to support and reward driver health and safety—and not incentivize over-work.

As health and safety become part of fleet culture, fatigued driving, and the risk that goes with it, will fade away.

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