This week the NTSB announced that drowsy driving was the root cause of last year’s fatal bus crash in the Bronx that killed 15 people. The bus driver’s phone records and work schedules indicated that he could not have slept for more than three hours at a time in the 72 hours before the crash.
This tragedy underscores the importance of reminding all fleet drivers of the dangers of drowsy driving. As always, those drivers who are convinced they can simply will themselves to stay awake, despite having accumulated a big sleep debt, need the most reminding.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the following warning signs indicate that it’s time for a driver to stop and find a safe place to pull over and address his or her condition:
▪ Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking and/or heavy eyelids
▪ Difficulty keeping reveries or daydreams at bay
▪ Trouble keeping your head up
▪ Drifting from your lane, swerving, tailgating and/or hitting rumble strips
▪ Inability to clearly remember the last few miles driven
▪ Missing exits or traffic signs
▪ Yawning repeatedly
▪ Feeling restless, irritable or aggressive.
Here’s what drivers can do to prevent a fall-asleep crash:
▪ Get a good night’s sleep before you hit the road. You’ll want to be alert for the drive, so be sure to get adequate sleep (seven to nine hours) the night before you go.
▪ Don’t be too rushed to arrive at your destination. Many drivers try to maximize their trip by driving at night or without stopping for breaks. It’s better to allow the time to drive alert and arrive alive.
▪ Use the buddy system if possible. Just as you should not swim alone, avoid driving alone for long distances. A coworker who remains awake for the journey can take a turn behind the wheel and help identify the warning signs of fatigue.
▪ Take a break every 100 miles or 2 hours. Do something to refresh yourself like getting a snack, switching drivers, or going for a run.
▪ Take a nap — find a safe place to take a 15 to 20-minute nap, if you think you might fall asleep. Be cautious about excessive drowsiness after waking up.
▪ Avoid alcohol and medications that cause drowsiness as a side effect.
▪ Avoid driving at times when you would normally be asleep.
▪ Consume caffeine. The equivalent of two cups of coffee can increase alertness for several hours.
For more information about drowsy driving, click here.