Driving while fatigued is difficult to measure as a cause of accidents. According to the National Safety Council in the USA, drowsy driving accounts for approximately 100 000 crashes, 71 000 injuries, and 1 550 fatalities. The first step in making a difference is for fleet drivers to make a personal commitment to avoid driving while drowsy and instead take a break. Yet, what if your personal perception of this is flawed?
A recent study conducted by the USA’s AAA Foundation says 75% of drivers are unable to recognise when they are very drowsy. The CEO of MasterDrive, Eugene Herbert, elaborates: “The study, conducted on commercial drivers, reported that drivers reported low perceived levels of drowsiness when they were actually moderately to very drowsy. Drowsiness was determined by measurements that showed drivers’ eyes were closed for more than a quarter of one minute time intervals.
“The study also says commercial drivers are more likely to underestimate their drowsiness level because they are on the road more often. This is particularly true for those that drive at night during the times when drowsiness is most likely: between 21:00 and 06:00. The most concerning fact revealed is that even drivers who noted they were very drowsy, continued driving.”
Thus fatigue-related crashes could be drastically reduced if a driver’s awareness levels of their own state of drowsiness is increased. “Yet, this is only provided that there is also a willingness to actually take a break. During the study, drivers had the chance to take a break every 20 minutes but the decision to take these breaks was affected by the driver’s ability to accurately judge their drowsiness.
“Currently, many driver fatigue monitoring policies depend on the drivers’ perception of their drowsiness to be effective. If as many as 75% of your fleet is unable to accurately judge this, how effective can these policies be? Where does the solution lie, however? Learning how to correctly judge your fatigue levels is not something that can be quickly or easily achieved.”
The first part of the solution is to implement compulsory procedures to be followed irrespective of whether one feels tired or not. “This includes stopping every two hours, limiting the hours a driver is on the road each day, making provision for healthy meals, hire co-drivers to share driving duties where applicable, implementing policies that stop the use of drowsy-inducing medications and, where possible, limit night time driving.
“Additionally, teach drivers to be aware of physical signs that indicate a driver may be fatigued before they are fully aware of it. Daydreaming, loss of concentration, yawning, drifting across lanes, rubbing eyes, delayed reactions and regular variations in speed are all indicative of drowsiness. Microsleep, where you unconsciously drift off for a few seconds to minutes, is also something to be aware of but more difficult to determine.”
The study indicates relying on employees alone to stop drowsy driving is not enough. “Instead, it needs a strategy that combines raised awareness, company policy and dependence on the drivers. Together, this may bring about a more significant reduction in fatigued-driving crashes,” says Herbert.