Drowsy driving is an increasing concern for today’s fleets, and can lead to drivers crashing and damaging a vehicle or worse, cause injuries to themselves and others. This safety concern now accounts for 100,000 automobile crashes per year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
In addition, drowsy drivers are involved in an estimated 21 percent of fatal crashes, according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
For that reason alone, it is important for fleet managers and drivers to know the signs, understand its cognitive effects, and apply safe driving habits to help eliminate driver drowsiness altogether.
Know the Signs
There are common signs of drowsiness that drivers should be taught to watch for: excessive yawning or rubbing of eyes, feeling restless, drifting from lane to lane or hitting a shoulder rumble strip, trouble focusing, and daydreaming.
But, there are also many signs that aren’t as apparent.
For instance, driving alone or on a long, rural road can make fleet drivers feel drowsy and lose their focus. And, driving for extended periods of time without a break can be just as hazardous.
Even the daylight saving time change can factor into drivers experiencing fatigue or drowsiness.
“Not planning properly for the end of daylight saving time can also contribute to drowsy drivers,” said Melissa Vega, manager of driver services at the Automobile Club of Southern California.
Moreover, those who work more than 60 hours a week need to be especially careful because they increase their risks of getting into an accident by 40 percent, according to research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF).
Fleet drivers, who are regulated under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s Hours of Service regulations, which are designed to combat drowsiness and fatigue, are limited to 11 hours of driving after having 10 consecutive hours off duty.
The Effects of Drowsiness
Not noticing distance traveled or daydreaming are prime examples of the cognitive impact drowsy driving has on a fleet driver.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that driving while drowsy is comparable to driving under the influence. The effect of being awake for 18 hours straight is similar to that of someone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 percent.
As with driving while impaired by alcohol, drowsiness makes drivers less attentive, slows reaction time, and affects their ability to make decisions (see infographic).
“If a fleet driver begins to feel drowsy, they should take a break every two hours or about every 100 miles and that break should be about 20-30 minutes,” said Vega.
Fleet managers can help drivers get the right amount of sleep by providing educational materials and statistics on the dangers of drowsy driving.
Among the means they can do this is company newsletters, e-mails, and the fleet’s or company’s Facebook page.