Driver fatigue is one of the top five most important driver-related factors in truck accidents
According to the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCSS), conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), driver fatigue is one of the top five most important driver-related factors in truck accidents, and is associated with up to 13% of all large truck crashes. Because fatigue is often an associated factor, and not the main cause of many accidents, it is often not reported, so it is difficult to know the full extent of the problem.
However, we do know that driver fatigue and sleepiness is much more likely to be associated with serious accidents. A 1994 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said fatigue caused only 0.9% of injury accidents, but 3.6% of fatal accidents. Fatal accidents are four times more likely to be due to fatigue because drivers that fall asleep at the wheel are more likely to cross the midline into oncoming traffic or otherwise completely lose control of their vehicle, resulting in serious accidents.
Here are some of the factors that contribute to truck driver fatigue:
- Sleep loss
- Disrupted circadian rhythm
- Sedatives and other medication use
- Untreated sleep disorders
Truck drivers are often encouraged to operate on reduced sleep during their drives. They get less sleep, often snatched at rest stops in the sleeper berth. Other times, it doesn’t matter how much sleep a driver has gotten, it matters more when they are asked to drive. Current rules don’t mandate a 24-hour drive/rest cycle, so drivers are encouraged to drive at all times of the day and night. As drivers become sleep-deprived, it paradoxically gets harder for them to fall asleep, and they may turn to sleep medication to help them sleep.
Sleep disorders are also prevalent among truck drivers. Official studies suggest that 28% of truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that can lead to extreme daytime sleepiness. Other studies say the number may be as high as 40%. Sleep apnea may be associated with as much as a 5-fold increase in motor vehicle accident risk. Trucking companies should screen drivers for this condition and provide adequate treatment.