Driver fatigue is a serious problem in the U.S.  Every day, 250,000 drivers fall asleep behind the wheel, and a fatigue-related crash occurs every 25 seconds. Truck drivers are particularly susceptible: fatigue is the primary cause of nearly one-third of all fatal truck accidents. Some blame new regulations while others blame shippers, carriers, and the drivers themselves. As with any complex problem, there’s plenty of blame to go around, but focusing on solutions is the only way to affect change and save lives (Freight Waves).

Pressure Leads to Nodding Off

The FMCSA’s Hours-of-Service rules are designed to protect drivers, but pressure to meet deadlines and delivery windows keeps drivers on the road when they should be resting. In a recent anonymous poll of more than 1,425 drivers, approximately 42 percent admitted to driving tired every day. Another 35 percent drive while fatigued at least once per week (Overdrive).

Where does this pressure come from? Here are a just a few causes:

  • ELD Enforcement: While the full enforcement of the ELD mandate was intended to improve safety on the roads, unforeseen issues often create the opposite effect. The old paper logs allowed tired drivers more flexibility to sleep when they felt tired, even when the “system” disagreed. The reality is, drivers feel tired in the middle of a shift, even though they’re supposed to be driving. Or, they may have to wait to load or unload when they’re supposed to be sleeping. Even when do get to rest, it’s often poor quality due to uncomfortable sleeper-berths, vehicle and road noises, and other disturbances. Sometimes they simply can’t find a legal and safe place to park for the night (Van Winkle’s).
  • Not Enough Home Life: When truckers travel for days or weeks on end, they need to make the most of what little time they have at home. Catching up on bills, chores, and family time can mean overdoing it and returning to the road exhausted. This no-win situation wears drivers down over time, leading to job dissatisfaction and burnout in an industry already plagued by a driver shortage.
  • Problematic Pay Structure: Truckers only get paid when they’re driving. Being paid by the mile motivates them to spend more hours behind the wheel when they should be resting, exercising, or otherwise taking care of themselves (Gorilla Safety).

What’s a Truck Driver to Do?

Expecting truck drivers to make all the changes is misguided. Driver fatigue is a problem for the entire transportation industry, and one that has life-threatening consequences for both drivers and everyone on the road. Instead, drivers, carriers, and especially shippers have a critical role to play:

  • Drivers: Focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating a good diet, getting more exercise, and napping when needed. Learning to recognize your own body’s signals and the dangers of drowsiness can also help. And finally, speak up. When you need a nap, say so. Insist. Your life could depend on it (FMCSA).
  • Dispatchers and Fleet Managers: Look for burnout in drivers. Taking too long to complete assignments, expressing negativity or cynicism, and appearing mentally and physically exhausted are key signs. To mitigate or reverse burnout, pinpoint the cause of stress and reassign drivers to relieve it. Treating drivers like individuals by meeting their specific needs with resources and training, and appreciating that some people can handle more than others, will also help. Ultimately, strong, supportive relationships are what keeps drivers connected to your company and their career (Fleet Owner).
  • Shippers: Changes you make could impact truck drivers more than any others. You can reduce driver fatigue by taking steps to maximize drivers’ time. Speeding up loading and unloading, calculating “last possible load time” metrics for drivers, staffing up during peak times, using drop and hook, and offering safe overnight parking will put hours—and sleep—back in a driver’s day. Learn more here.

A 3PL Can Help Too

Driver fatigue is a complex problem that demands a complex solution. Working with an experienced 3PL gives you access to their expertise, as well as best practices across a vetted carrier network and customer base. Contact us to learn more.