Many Truckers Plagued by Fatigue, Poor Health
Commercial truck drivers are among the unhealthiest people in America, one factor contributing to their fatigue on the road. A recent study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that 34% of commercial truckers have fallen asleep while driving and 15% showed signs of sleep apnea.
Sleepy drivers are less alert to changing traffic conditions and more accident-prone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, which cites AAA statistics, drowsy driving causes one in six fatal auto crashes in the United States. Driving while fatigued is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous than drunk driving.
Recently, a truck crash in Coal County, Oklahoma, killed a woman who was pinned in her car for 45 minutes. Police said the trucker’s drowsiness was a major factor in the accident, KXII reported.
Trucks have large blind spots, tremendous weight, and long stopping distances, making it especially important for drivers to be alert. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reports that 13% of commercial drivers involved in truck collisions were fatigued at the time of their accidents.
Advice for Truckers
Truckers work under stressful conditions that can lead to health problems like chronic fatigue, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration offers tips to help truckers avoid fatigue-related accidents:
- Get an adequate amount of sleep. Commercial truck drivers often get fewer than six hours of sleep each day. This is not sufficient for an adult to remain alert during a long workday, and the boredom of long haul driving can make the problem even worse.
- Be aware of time-of-day drowsiness. The natural sleep-wake cycle causes nighttime truck drivers to nod off. Even with sufficient sleep, a trucker is most likely to experience fatigue or sleepiness between midnight and 6 a.m., and again between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Long hours on the road increase the risk of drowsiness.
- Eat healthy food. Skipping meals and choosing unhealthy food can affect driver alertness. Eating a large meal right before bed can interfere with healthy, restful sleep.
- Adjust to wakefulness. Truck drivers are most likely to get into traffic crashes during the first hour of driving. This is especially true for truckers who rest in on-board sleep berths. Transitioning to alert, attentive driving is difficult and it takes time for drivers to adjust to the task at hand.
- Do not drive after taking medications that induce drowsiness. Many prescription drugs and over-the-counter remedies cause sleepiness. Narcotic painkillers, allergy medicines, and other medications make users too drowsy to drive safely.
Many truckers drive drowsy because of health conditions. They work extremely long hours and have limited access to healthy menuson the road.
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute offers the following health tips for truck drivers:
- Do not smoke, or commit to quitting and take of advantage of smoking cessation resources.
- Do not drink before driving.
- Treat mental health issues consistently and appropriately.
- Be aware of symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea and seek treatment if drowsiness, nodding off, or other sleep disturbances arise.
The recent study found that two-thirds of truckers were obese, and 17% were morbidly obese. Truckers also tend to smoke in higher numbers than the rest of the population—over half of commercial truck drivers interviewed for the research paper were smokers. The incidence of diabetes and obesity is more than 50% greater among truckers than the general population, and many truckers have respiratory problems like COPD.
Echoing the recommendations of other experts, the study strongly recommended health interventions to help commercial drivers reduce and manage chronic illnesses that cause drowsiness and fatigue. However, given the nature of the trucking industry and the number of commercial carriers in the nation, fixing trucker health for the good of everyone is a daunting challenge.
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