Driver fatigue is a serious safety issue year-round, but even more so when drivers must work in below-freezing temperatures, deal with frost, snow, slush, black-ice, and the stress of a nor’easter or two.
People often think driver fatigue means falling asleep at the wheel; however, that’s the extreme scenario. Fatigue also involves tiredness, weariness or exhaustion – conditions that impair a driver’s performance and may lead to a vehicle drifting off the road and crossing lanes.
Harsh winter conditions exacerbate a fatigued driver’s responses, leading to greater delays when reacting to a dangerous situation, or simply being aware of their immediate surrounding and events unfolding on the road around them. During the summer, a driver may open a window for fresh air, but that’s not an option in below-freezing temperatures.
Overall, the combination of fatigue and winter weather can drastically compromise a driver’s skills – and in a worst case scenario – that compromise could lead to deadly results.
To avoid driver fatigue impacting your fleet’s uptime, the safety of your drivers, and the public, follow these tips on battling driver fatigue:
- Create a culture of open and honest communication about driver fatigue – employees need to feel comfortable reporting their inability to drive due to fatigue and have no fear of reprisals.
- Plan ahead and consider the driver’s commute time when complying with state or federal specific hours of service (HOS).
- Teach drivers that it’s not better to “push through” and that it’s better to find somewhere to stop and rest. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a short nap of between 20-30 minutes to significantly improve alertness and performance.
- Encourage drivers to report fatigue – regularly ask for feedback both pre- and post-trip.
- Educate drivers about the early signs of fatigue – such as yawning, frequent blinking and drowsiness. Remind them to make sure the cruise control function is ‘off’ as they look for a safe area to stop and take a rest.
- Avoid planning routes on two-lane roads and use highways as much as possible. It’s harder for drivers to find rest areas on two-lane roads.
- Use lane tracking devices so an alarm will sound if the vehicle drifts into another lane without the driver using a turn signal.
- If possible, avoid scheduling driving during the early morning/pre-dawn hours when fatigue is more prevalent.
- Remind drivers about the need to avoid medications, including over-the-counter options, which may cause drowsiness.
- Educate drivers to eat light, fresh foods versus sugary or carbohydrate-filled foods that can make them feel tired.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatigued or drowsy driving may contribute to 100,000 crashes each year, causing 40,000 injuries and more than 1,000 deaths. Don’t let your drivers be involved in one of those crashes.
For more best practices on winter driving, go to ryder.com/winter.