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Truckers Asleep at the Wheel

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that nearly one-third of all fatal semi truck accidents are caused by a trucker falling asleep at the wheel. Although technological advances have brought numerous gadgets, apps and other tools to help truckers stay awake, and lawmakers have taken steps to help ensure that drivers are not fatigued, the problem continues to plague the roadways of America.

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In 2015 alone, there were approximately 87,000 injury crashes that involved large trucks. In those crashes, about 116,000 individuals were seriously injured. Another 4,050 large truck crashes resulted in at least one fatality, and in total, 4,067 people lost their lives. About 116 of those individuals were in crashes that occurred in Tennessee.

About 35 percent of all large truck crashes that ended in fatality and 21 percent of injury crashes involving large trucks occurred at night, between the hours of 6:00 pm and 6:00 am. While weather conditions, mechanical failures, and driver error were common causes, truck driver fatigue has been identified as a major contributor to the number of large truck accidents.

According to the FMCSA, many drivers operate large trucks while fatigued. Accurate estimates of the true numbers, however, are difficult to determine. Although numerous hours of service (HOS) regulations to help reduce truck driver fatigue have been developed, they are highly controversial and often violated by drivers who are desperate to get their loads from point A to point B.

Preventative Measures to Combat Truck Driver Fatigue

There are a number of items available on the market that are designed to combat truck driver fatigue and reduce the risk of large truck crashes caused by sleepy truckers. Some of them include:

  • Phone Apps: There are a few different types of mobile applications that are available to help drivers refrain from driving while fatigued or falling asleep at the wheel. With one type of app, a driver creates a profile and inputs his or her information about recent rest and behavior. The app then develops a personalized "plan" and interacts with the driver accordingly, reminding him or her to take breaks, etc.

Another type of mobile application is designed to detect when blinking occurs too frequently, the driver's eyes begin to close or when his or her head begins to nod. When any of the above occur, an alarm sounds to alert the driver.

  • Ear Pieces: Motion detecting ear pieces are designed to monitor the truck driver's head movement. When a trucker's head dips too far, the bluetooth style earpiece sounds an alarm to wake the driver.
  • Radar Technology: Many large truck fleets have begun using specially designed radar technology to detect driver speed and driving behavior. When the technology senses that a driver may be falling asleep, it automatically applies the brakes.

Prevention is Key

Even with advanced technology and HOS regulations, truck driver fatigue is still a major concern. Fortunately, there are steps commercial drivers can take to help prevent falling asleep at the wheel. Some of the most effective methods for preventing drowsy driving include:

  • Take Frequent Breaks: It is recommended that truckers utilize truck stops to help themselves remain alert. Stopping for a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage, for example, not only helps give the driver an energy boost, it also enables him or her to stretch, get some fresh air, and take in a change of scenery.
  • Power Naps: Taking power naps at the first sign of grogginess can be very effective for helping truckers maintain alertness on the road. A short nap of just 15 to 20 minutes, even if the driver only rests and doesn't fall asleep, can restore energy. To increase the benefits of a power nap even more, drivers should walk around and consider drinking a caffeinated beverage upon awakening.
  • Meals: Good nutrition is essential for helping truck drivers stay awake and alert behind the wheel. When blood sugar levels drop, drivers often have difficulty staying awake and concentrating on the road. Consuming heavy meals right before driving, however, should be avoided.
  • Medications: Certain medications, even those that are available over the counter, can enhance drowsiness. Before heading out, drivers should familiarize themselves with the possible side effects of any medications they might be taking and avoid taking new medicines.

Effects of Driving Drowsy

Drowsy driving or driving while fatigued has often been compared to driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs because many of the same issues apply. When drivers are sleepy, a slowed reaction time is experienced, and judgement and vision can become impaired. Tired drivers often have difficulty processing information, they experience difficulty with short-term memory, and they are at a higher risk for displaying aggressive driving behaviors. By implementing the correct measures to stay alert while driving, they can help keep themselves and other drivers safe for the long haul.

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