Driver fatigue is often overlooked as a cause for traffic accidents. Truck drivers are especially affected by fatigue given the nature of their job and work schedules.
Previous studies have shown that a truck driver remaining awake for 17 hours results in response times 50% slower than that of a well-rested driver.
Another factor that impacts response time by 50%? A blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .04%.
Fatigued drivers are as dangerous to other motorists as drunk or drinking drivers.
A driver who has gone 21 hours without sleep will show effects equivalent to having .1% BAC, which is definitely considered drunk driving. Hopefully there are not many truck drivers on the roads that have gone 21 hours without sleep, but any lack of sleep will have a negative effect on the driver’s ability.
New Hours-of Service Rules to address trucker fatigue
Fortunately, last July the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) implemented new hours-of-service rules. The new rules:
- Limit the maximum average work week for truck drivers to 70 hours, an approximate 14.6% decrease from the prior limit of 82 hours per week.
- After reaching 70 hours, drivers must rest for at least 34 consecutive hours before resuming driving.
- Finally, truck drivers must take a 30 minute driving break during the first 8 hours of a shift.
As part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), Congress mandated that research be conducted on driver fatigue.
Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center looked at 100 truck drivers’ levels of fatigue and amount of sleep over two 7/8 day work cycles, and the mandatory rest breaks between shifts.
The researchers compared the level of fatigue in drivers that had one mandatory nighttime period break between shifts with drivers that had two or more nighttime period breaks between shifts.
Researchers found that when semi-truck drivers had two or more nighttime periods between driving shifts, they did not experience as many lapses of attention. Truckers maintained their lane position better, and reported less sleepiness while on duty than those with only one nighttime period between driving shifts.
Principal study investigator Professor Hans Van Dongen said that the study confirmed prior research findings
“Earlier laboratory studies we have done for FMCSA suggested that the old provision did not provide sufficient sleep opportunity for nighttime drivers whose restart break included only one nighttime period.”
While it is satisfying to see quantitative results showing the beneficial effects modifying work shift and rest period requirements for drivers, it remains to be seen if the new regulations will make the roads safer for both truck drivers and other drivers on the road.