How to Effectively Combat Driver Fatigue

Feeling fatigued is a common human experience.

Image shows a driver while sleeping in a truck

Feeling fatigued is a common human experience. However, it is important to note that fatigue can impair your daily activities and lead to drowsiness. In today’s hustle culture, working through tiredness is often glorified. Yet, in some fields, this could be potentially fatal. One of the most problematic areas is driving while enduring fatigue.

According to the National Safety Council, drowsy driving has led to 100,000 crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 fatalities every year. It contributes to 9.6% of all crashes.

This is especially troubling in industries like transportation and logistics. Fleets often have extended hours of work on the road to complete their daily schedule. Back and forth trips to the warehouse, scheduled deliveries, and long trips to distant places – these are common in the life of a person driving a commercial vehicle. However, the importance of not driving while fatigued has to be reiterated in such professions.

In this blog, we talk about driver fatigue, its causes, tell-tale signs, and solutions that mitigate risks arising from it.

What is driver fatigue?

A driver who is not well-rested for any reason taking the wheel and driving a vehicle puts the driver and other road users at great risk due to driver fatigue and drowsiness. But, this isn’t news to anyone. People drive while fatigued all the time. It may be because they have to go on with their daily routine quite often no matter what. Whether they partied too much last night, are under medication, have sleep troubles, or are simply overworked – these reasons take a backseat when people prioritize their work over health.

This happens more often than we acknowledge. When was the last time you drove when you were already feeling tired and sleepy? If you are remembering that time you almost fell asleep behind the wheel, you are not alone.

According to AAA, 27% of drivers are so tired they cannot keep their eyes open. CDC even found that 1 in 25 drivers have fallen asleep while driving. Isn’t this startling?

This is a common occurrence.  Yet, on a global scale, there aren’t enough conversations around this topic.

Thus, when it comes to fleets, businesses have to go the extra mile to curb this issue. Fatigued workers lead to a production loss of $1,200 to $3,100 per employee every year according to the study by NSC. In health-related productivity, fatigued workers cost employers  $136 billion per year according to National Sleep Foundation.

If these numbers aren’t enough to tip the scales for you to take action towards fixing this issue, answer this – would you allow your employee to drive whilst being drunk? The answer is likely a resounding no.

So here is the deal with sleepless drowsy driving…

If a driver is awake for more than 20 hours at a stretch or has not had quality sleep over that duration, it has similar effects as driving with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08% (which is also the US limit).

Now that we have established that driver fatigue is a serious issue – let’s understand how you can fix this issue.

Reasons for driver fatigue

To find solutions for this issue, you must understand why does this happen. Here is a list of reasons:

  • Overworked
  • Haven’t slept the previous night
  • Haven’t slept more than a couple of hours a night for more than 3-4 days
  • Suffer from conditions like sleep apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia, mental health challenges
  • Consume medications that induce drowsiness
  • Consume alcohol or drugs
  • Monotonous driving with no break periods

Among these reasons, most are factors that are beyond the control of an employer. However, there are tell-tale signs of a fatigued driver.  The employer can recognize these signs with the help of technology and at the same implement some changes within fleets to address them.

Solutions for driver fatigue

Leverage AI and video telematics to recognize driver fatigue and drowsiness

Video telematics is a must-have for fleets – it has many benefits from driver exoneration, improving safety to a more engaged driver workforce.  Among the many benefits, AI-enabled video telematics can also recognize signs of fatigue and drowsiness in a driver. Driver Monitoring System (DMS): Most video telematics services have an optional driver-facing camera that can be used to alert the driver based on risky behavior such as distraction. These cameras are mounted at an angle appropriate to read the driver’s face. Using several marking points across the face, patterns are derived. They can detect microsleep patterns by tracking the driver’s eyes. This determines how likely they may eventually fall asleep while driving. Yawning and bobbing the head are other cues that signify fatigue. The degree of eye closure can provide data of drowsiness as well. All this data with respect to the driver’s facial cues can cumulatively provide information that is enough to alert the driver in real-time.

The real-time driver alerts can encourage drivers to take breaks or stop their journey as opposed to risking falling asleep on the wheel. This data is also sent to the fleet managers. They can analyze this information and take several appropriate actions to understand the problems of the driver. Likewise, video telematics can also collect data on unusual driving characteristics. Tracking the driver-facing cameras and road-facing cameras with real-time data of the route can determine if the driver missed several turns due to lack of focus.  The AI can track other risky behavior such as braking hard, speeding (not noticing speed limits), violating stop signs, tailgating which can be the result of a driver being drowsy. The comprehensive set of alerts helps the driver avert bad outcomes by warning in real-time and provides the fleet manager a granular view of fleet safety based on risky driving behaviors.

Follow the law more seriously

Driver fatigue is such a serious problem that there is the HoS legislation to reduce accidents due to fatigue. According to the Hours of Service (HoS) rule, fleet drivers can work for 14 days an hour, of which 11 can be driving hours. They are also required to be off duty for 10 hours after that before their next shift. They are also required to take 30 minutes within the first 8 hours to continue. This ensures drivers are not overworked and receive enough rest between shifts. As drivers are paid by the mile, this curbs them from going overboard in that attempt of covering more miles and logging more hours.

The Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) Mandate states fleet managers to record driver data except for a few cases. In this process, the driver’s vehicle data is monitored using modern telematics to ensure compliance with the HoS rule. Despite several laws for fleets to manage their driver’s hours and schedules, driving while being drowsy is recognized as a punishable offense only in two states in the US. New Jersey initiated this in 2003 in the form of Maggie’s Law, under which a driver is punishable for up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $100,000. Recently drowsy driving became punishable in the state of Arkansas as well.

Company culture and education for driver fatigue

Your drivers will be more inclined to follow the rules, laws, and best practices while driving when it is made into the company culture. Driver health and safety must be made a priority. Regular schedule tracking can be done to check who might be overworked and schedules could be rotated accordingly. Likewise, regular open conversations with drivers can help you with insights about their capacity for working without tiring themselves out. Fleet managers can conduct regular sessions to convey the importance of driving while being fully alert and of all the mishaps that can happen without this awareness. Driver fatigue is an often ignored problem in the industry. However, with the combination of technology, law, education, and awareness, fleets can deal with them much more seriously and efficiently.