Friday, November 6, 2020

Avoiding Driver Fatigue

While driving, have you ever experienced a lack of concentration, difficulty making decisions, lane drifting, reduced alertness, or tired and blinking eyes?

These are just some of the warning signs when sleep deprivation is starting to kick in, and most of us will answer yes to at least one at some point.  Sleep deprivation can occur at any time of day but is most common during early morning hours or late nights. How can you avoid sleep deprivation and stay energized during long shifts of vehicle operation?

First, and arguably most important, is getting enough rest prior to the start of a shift. If you know you are going to be working extended shifts the next day or night, try to get a healthy sleep. Consider these tips:

  • Have a consistent routine each night with the same bedtime and wake up time and a relax period or nice bath/shower right before.
  • Avoid large meals, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and late naps before bed.
  • Try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, but not ideally within 3 hours of your bedtime.

Another important facet of preparation is nutrition, which includes:

  • Making sure to keep hydrated with water and sports drinks constantly throughout the day.
  • If you are a caffeine drinker (tea/coffee/energy drinks), being aware of your limitations and not to go overboard. Make sure to mix in plenty of water with these types of drinks.
  • Large meals will cause drowsiness to follow, but eating smaller portions of healthier meals throughout the shift will help avoid after-meal sleepiness.

As far as resting goes, there are no hard and fast rules or regulations in place here. Emergency vehicles are not subject to Department of Transportation regulations for hours of service. If so, there would be 14 hours on and 11 hours off. Your body will tell you when you need to take a break and if you also need to take a nap, but a rule of thumb approach is to take some type of break every two hours.  Depending on where you are on your own fatigue cycle, this could mean you are functioning normally for six hours or fatigue could set in within an hour of when your shift begins.

Exercise and stretching can also be a way of combating fatigue. When you’re starting to feel fatigue, drowsiness, or stiffness set in, take short walks round your vehicle. Something as simple as basic neck or arm stretches gets the blood flowing and can be done inside the vehicle itself. 

Lastly, keep your vehicle well ventilated. A warm and stuffy vehicle promotes drowsiness.

Check out these resources to learn more about driver fatigue:

SAFE-D Part 1 of 2: Sleep, Alertness and Fatigue Educationfor Drivers

SAFE-D Part 2 of 2: Sleep, Alertness and Fatigue Education for Drivers


Submitted by: Michael Neff, Loss Control Consultant

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