Just a few seconds of inattention can take lives on the road. Reaching into the glove compartment or glancing at your phone can result in a collision or driving off the road. Drowsy driving creates a distracted and inattentive state for miles, not just seconds, at a time.
Every year, thousands of people die as a result of drowsy driving and falling asleep at the wheel. The NHTSA found that drowsy driving may be the cause of as many as 30% of the total automobile crashes and approximately 6,000 deaths each year. Simple tiredness behind the wheel is the cause for 20% of fatal crashes on the road. These stats highlight something that we as drivers and managers (humans in general) too often overlook: The risk of being tired behind the wheel.
For fleet managers, the risk of drowsy driving is serious as your choices can put drowsy drivers on the road or keep your drivers safe when fatigue is too great.
Drowsy Driving is as Dangerous as It is Common
The Sleep Foundation found that of all surveys of adult drivers, 20% report having fallen asleep behind the wheel in the last year and 40% report it happening at least once in their driving career. Even without fully falling asleep behind the wheel, drowsy driving is similar to intoxication. Being tired, though awake, slows your reaction times, attention, coordination, and decision-making abilities. These are many of the same decreases in ability that cause us to avoid driving when drunk.
The behaviors of a drowsy driver are similar to someone who is intoxicated. Alcohol intoxication is noted with poor depth perception and speed judgment as well as driving instability. Like drunk driving, a drowsy driver may weave between lanes, tailgate without realizing, and fail to react to obstacles or dangerous circumstances in time to avoid a crash. Drowsy drivers commonly drive off the side of the road or into unseen or undetected obstacles.
How Long Awake Does Drowsy Driving Start?
- 18 Hours Awake
So how can a driver be sure if they are tired or officially dangerous to drive? This is the reason drowsy driving is so common is that, as a driven population, we like to "push through". We'd rather drive drowsy and get home after a long day than catch a roadside nap, get a hotel, or even ask a friend to drive. Those who drive for work don't want to fall down on the job, so we firm up and try to be as alert and correct as we can on the road.
While everyone has a unique sleep cycle, for most, the line is at 18 hours awake. After 18 hours, a person's hand-eye coordination, vigilance, and multi-tasking abilities decrease to the equivalent of a 0.05% blood alcohol level. 20 hours awake and a person's abilities reduce to about a 0.08% BAC. After 24 hours, a persons' drowsiness is similar to being drunk at 0.1% BAC, well over the equivalent legal limit.
Extended sleep deprivation can also play a part, as cumulative weariness affects a person's ability to focus and stay attentive.
Managing Drowsy Driving as a Fleet Manager
Fleet managers have a special responsibility to prevent drowsy driving. Schedule management can contribute to driver fatigue or help to reduce sleep deprivation and fatigued drivers on the road. Therefore, there are three approaches to preventing drowsy driving in your fleet.
The first approach is intelligent and sleep-friendly scheduling. Make sure your drivers have at least 10 hours between shifts, that's eight hours for sleep and two for necessary human actions before and after bed like driving, dinner, and showers. Smart, predictable scheduling gives your team the best chance to get good sleep. Unpredictable scheduling is among the most likely circumstances to cause drowsy driving.
Pay attention to your drivers before they head out on the road. Just a little intentional human awareness can go a long way to prevent drowsy driving. Encourage your team to keep an eye on each other as they pour coffee and run the vehicle checklists before taking their routes. If someone is increasingly fatigued or seems un-alert, ask if they are sleeping well. It may be necessary, if extreme fatigue or lack of sleep is detected, it may be necessary to perform an awareness test or send a driver to sleep instead of driving.
Backup and Buddy Driver System
Lastly, take the pressure off your drivers to be ready every day to drive. If someone has to be benched for insomnia, sleep lost to emergencies, or ongoing sleep deprivation, make sure they have a buddy or backup driver. This also increases the safety if a driver becomes fatigued or detects their own drowsy driving status on the road.
Drowsy driving is an all-too-often overlooked danger for drivers and fleets. Fortunately, it's one hazard we can prevent with compassion and smart scheduling. Contact us today for more fleet management insights.