Managing Fatigue

In the TRUCKING world, nothing is more important than ‘safety’! What does safety mean? It means keeping the driver and all other road users, pedestrians, and cyclists safe. The responsibility of a safe truck driver goes far beyond the cargo that is in the trailer. It includes the safety of everyone, including themselves, on the road. One of the most critical aspects of safety is managing fatigue. This means not driving when tired. A truck driver’s body needs proper breaks for rest and adequate sleep. It is so important to listen to your body!

Can you imagine driving down a long stretch of highway with miles/kilometres of roadway ahead and a very monotonous landscape? The engine is running at its mythical beat and the road is just lulling you to sleep. The feeling of tiredness may be a state of fatigue. That feeling of being tired affects cognitive abilities, coordination, and reaction times. This dramatically increases the risk of a crash.

If you continue to drive in a state of fatigue or exhaustion, it is not only detrimental or destructive for your health, but now you pose a serious hazard on the road. When fatigue/tiredness sets in, judgement can become clouded and the ability to respond or determine potential dangers ahead dramatically diminishes. Fatigue jeopardizes not only your safety but the safety of everyone on that highway.

Your body Is the most reliable indicator of the state that you are in. Pay close attention to all the signs of fatigue, such as frequent, chronic drifting between the lines on the highway and difficulty maintaining a constant speed (without cruise control). I know pulling over for a quick break is an inconvenience for you, but the consequences of continuing to drive tired can far outweigh this minor inconvenience/break.

Taking regular breaks is not a sign of weakness; it demonstrates that you take safe driving seriously and are responsible and caring. Taking a break allows you to go for a quick walk, stretch, have a drink (water is best) and re-energize. Short intervals of just 15 minutes make a world of difference in combatting or fighting tiredness/fatigue. Use this time to walk around, do some light exercise and enjoy a healthy snack. You’ll be more alert, and you’ll be able to focus. Build regular breaks into your driving routine.

I know the trucking industry demands that you adhere to schedules and that not meeting those schedules/deadlines is critical. With some companies, it may even cost you your job. It would be better to not work for this type of company than being involved in a crash. Your body needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Prolonged lack of sleep has proven to lead to tiredness and illness. Have a plan in place to take breaks for every trip.

The new modern trucks have many tools to help you manage fatigue. Some examples are lane departure warning systems, collision and avoidance systems, adaptive cruise control and now even fatigue detection systems. These tools try to alert you when they detect that you, the driver, are tired. It is hard, but I hope you embrace these new technologies. I hear many complaints from drivers about the buzzing and lights flashing. Just remember it is trying to warn you that you may be tired.

You are the captain of the ship, and you are the only one who knows when your body is trying to tell you that you are tired. You have a tremendous responsibility to be safe and prioritize safety. Fatigue management is not a luxury. It is an essential component of safe driving. Don’t be that driver who tries to power through exhaustion. Take a break. Be safe, make money and return home to your family.

Chris Harris
Top Dawg, Safety Dawg Inc.
@safety_dawg (twitter)

About Chris Harris, Safety Dawg

Chris has been involved in trucking most of his adult life. He drove truck for and worked in various office/management positions for a major truck company. His last position of 5 years in the safety department where he was responsible for the recruiting of Owner Operators and their compliance. He joined a trucking insurance company in 2001 and has been in the insurance side of things until making Safety Dawg a full-time endeavour.