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Health – The importance of rest periods for truck drivers

Health – The importance of rest periods for truck drivers

According to statistics produced in 2010 by the Automobile Insurance Society of Quebec (Société de l’Assurance Automobile du Québec) (SAAQ), tiredness is the most frequent (31%) cause of accidents involving truck drivers (heavy duty).

Still according to these statistics, drivers think that tiredness is an important factor, generally poorly managed by truck companies and for a reason: very often, unfortunately, profit is more important than health and security.

The main causes of tiredness for a truck driver

Of course we are all different in our ways of reacting to fatigue. This is also the case for truck drivers. The factors which may be taken into account are: the biological clock, the state of health, diet, age, etc.

But this is not all. It may also be connected to his/her work (duration of work period, work cycle, degree of attention required, physical work, etc.) or to the environment (comfort of the vehicle, duration of journey, road and weather conditions, etc.). There are aggravating factors like consumption of alcohol or pharmaceutical drugs, the time of the day, the lack of sleep, recurring sleep problems.

The consequences of tiredness

Tiredness may have serious consequences for the truck driver’s activity, putting his life in danger but also those of others (drivers, pedestrians, passengers, cyclists, etc.). Without necessarily causing him to sleep, tiredness decreases speed of reaction, impairs judgement and carefulness, reduces the field of vision and increases the risk of falling asleep.

You should know that after 17 hours of being awake, our capacities decrease in a similar way to when we drink alcohol, slowing down our reflexes and the precision of our gestures.

Signs of tiredness to look out for

The first sign that we think of is yawning. Frequent yawning (in bursts) is one of the symptoms announcing a state of fatigue. If then you have difficulty finding a comfortable position, keeping a steady speed or if you change lanes involuntarily… then you are experiencing tiredness.

What should the truck driver do if he feels the symptoms of fatigue?

The first thing to do is of course to stop your vehicle. The truck driver must find a safe place to park his truck. Then, rest (a 20-30 minute nap) and go and stretch your legs or do some stretching exercises: you need oxygen! By taking a break every two hours, truck drivers can be sure to remain fully attentive.

How can they prevent tiredness?

The first rule is to listen to your body. You, more than anyone else, know how your body reacts to tiredness. It is important not to consume substances like alcohol, drugs or medication which could impair your reactivity when driving. Have light meals and do not drive more than four consecutive hours, take breaks, respect the rules, this is the advice that will help drivers to avoid incidents caused by tiredness. 

How the company can help drivers to manage fatigue

The scheduling of deliveries and pickup of goods by truck is an aggravating factor because more than often, the company is obliged to respect the customers’ deadlines. Confronted with this pressure, truck drivers have no other choice than that of transporting the goods without taking into account the state of tiredness: profit at all costs! There are also rarely facilities (resting rooms) where drivers can rest correctly while waiting.

By offering optimal scheduling, training and information about tiredness, ergonomic vehicles and a resting room, companies can contribute to the decrease in the number of episodes of tiredness. But it is often difficult to resist economic pressure.

Tools for managing truck drivers’ tiredness

There is a Set of rules (chapter C-24.2, r. 28) which indicate the maximum driving times and obligatory resting timeframes for drivers.

There is also the North American Program for Tiredness Management (PNAGF) whose objective is, through a global approach, to try to encourage companies to create training schemes and information about this subject in their company culture. Thus all those concerned will have access to the tools enabling them to be aware of and manage this problem.

We hope that this article will have alerted you on the dangers of tiredness at the wheel and that you will be more careful on the roads.