Driver Fatigue BASICs: Stay Awake, Arrive Alive

Over 60% of adult drivers have admitted to fatigued driving, and the NHTSA estimates that 100,000 police-reported crashes each year are the result of drivers driving beyond their ability to stay awake at the wheel. Being alert while operating a rig is one of the leading safety issues in the trucking industry, and a major priority for the FMCSA and their BASICs system. Drowsy driving leads to an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries, and $12.5 billion in monetary losses every year, and those numbers are likely conservative since there’s no benchmark against which to measure fatigued driving (unlike alcohol-impaired driving and the Breathalyzer).

Everybody knows you can’t drive a truck while you’re sleeping. (Unless you’re Homer Simpson, of course, and you have the Navitron Autodrive, but we won’t speak of that.) Falling asleep puts your own life in jeopardy, and the lives of everyone else on the road, and the FMCSA has put new rules in place to encourage more rest time on the road, longer periods of time between restarts, and revised rules defining on-duty and off-duty times. As part of our series on the FMCSA’s BASICs, we’re looking at fatigued driving and new hours-of-service rules this week.

How valuable is a good night of sleep?

In order to understand the importance of the FMCSA’s new rules, it’s helpful to understand a little about sleep. We take it for granted, but sleep plays a crucial role in keeping our bodies healthy. A lack of sleep can result in:

●    weight gain
●    high blood pressure
●    a decrease in the immune system’s power

For most adults, doctors recommend a minimum of 6 hours of sleep a night, though there’s evidence that as many as 9 hours per night is needed for some adults, and if you fall short night after night you’ll build up a sleep debt, which makes it difficult to catch up on sleep and escape feeling drowsy, sluggish, or worse, actually falling asleep while you’re on the job.

Part of the FMCSA’s mandate is to ensure driver safety, and they’ve linked lack of sleep among truck drivers to the following conditions:

●    obesity
●    high blood pressure
●    cardiovascular diseases
●    diabetes
●    sleep apnea

These conditions not only shorten drivers’ lives, but can result in substantial ongoing medical costs.

Hours-of-service rules

The FMCSA’s new hours-of-service rule limits the number of hours a driver can drive during a work week to 70 hours (the previous limit was 82 hours). Truck drivers also need to take a break of at least 30 minutes during an 8-hour driving window. And the new rule retains the current limit of a maximum 11-hour daily driving time.

Truck drivers who maximize their weekly work hours have to take at least two nights’ rest from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. during a week. A driver can restart their work week after a full 34 consecutive hours off-duty, but may only take one restart during a 7-day period.

The rules are expected to affect long-haul truckers the most (rather than local or less-than-truckload drivers), since long-haul deliveries are often paid on the basis of miles and delivery times. But many truckers are concerned that the new rules will do more to disrupt their current sleep schedules, especially drivers who are required to drive at night. And with a shortage of parking for big rigs already, many drivers are worried that the forced rest times will overcrowd existing parking areas, leading to some unsafe parking.

Keeping track of those hours

Many drivers opt to use an Electronic On-Board Recorder (EOBR), which can easily keep track of their driving hours. It’s easier than keeping a paper logbook, and the EOBR record can be used to verify compliance. With solutions like Xata Turnpike in place, tracking HOS information is easy, and it manages the latest FMCSA requirements, so you can spend time focused on the road, rather than navigating the latest legislation.

Fatigued Driving is one of the seven BASIC categories monitored by the FMCSA, and any violations in this area adversely affect a motor carrier’s ranking on their SMS website. In order to ensure compliance with the new HOS rules, the FMCSA is encouraging the use of EOBRs, and actually requiring it for motor carriers that have repeatedly violated the HOS and fatigued driving rules.

How do you see the new HOS rules affecting your own driving schedule?

Check back in with us next week as we take a look at the BASICs component of Driver Fitness.