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Why Driver Fatigue is Dangerous for Fleets and How to Avoid It


What does an accident cost your company? Probably more than you think. A single accident can cost a company with work truck, van, sedan, or truck drivers $10,000 or more. And that’s if it’s a minor accident. A fatal accident can cost $500,000 and put you out of business.

With that in mind, the most important thing your employees can do is be defensive drivers. Safe, defensive drivers see and avoid risk, protect themselves and others, and save their company money. Of course, defensive driving is impossible when you’re fatigued.

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The Dangers of Fatigued Driving

Fatigued driving happens when a driver has insufficient sleep, their cognitive abilities diminish, and they’re at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. It’s a common occurrence, and it’s extremely dangerous.

A drowsy driver is three times more likely to be in a crash than a well-rested driver. That’s because a drowsy driver’s risk is increased for three main reasons:

  1. High chance of falling asleep behind the wheel
  2. Reduced reaction & response time
  3. Microsleep & fatigue blindness

Falling Asleep Behind The Wheel

For obvious reasons, falling asleep behind the wheel is the biggest risk your drivers face when they’re fatigued.

Falling asleep behind the wheel is disproportionately responsible for serious and fatal accidents. That’s because when a driver falls asleep, they’re likely to have a head-on collision, a severe rollover accident, and/or a high-speed collision.

Falling asleep behind the wheel is deadly. Your employee could die or someone else could. Truck-driver fatigue and light-duty driver fatigue are serious risks to your employees, the public, and your company.

Reduced Reaction & Response Time

Like we said above, defensive driving is all about seeing and avoiding risk. Fatigued driving makes this nearly impossible.

A fatigued driver has a much slower reaction and response time. Their brain isn’t working at full capacity, so they will take longer to see a reason to stop, recognize that reason, and apply their brake.

Think of it this way. Most light-duty truck drivers are safe with a 3-second following distance. However, they need the entire 3-seconds to recognize the car in front of them is braking, apply the brake, and come to a safe stop.

If a driver is fatigued, it will take him or her twice as long to realize the car in front is stopping. There is no chance to stop before there’s a collision.

All in all, even if you don’t fall asleep, fatigued driving is extremely dangerous.

Microsleep & Fatigue Blindness

Fatigued drivers may not entirely fall asleep, but chances are, they are drifting in and out of consciousness. And, they likely don’t realize it.

This is called microsleep. Microsleeps are when a person nods off for a split second and jolts awake. While driving, a lot can happen in less than a second. Microsleeps lead to:

  • Driving in and out of lane
  • Rear-end collisions
  • Off-road or rollover incidents
  • High-speed collisions with other vehicles/fixed objects
  • Deadly pedestrian or cyclist strikes

Worse yet, there’s a phenomenon called “fatigued blindness” that occurs. When a driver is asleep, they will have a much harder time actually recognizing risk. It’s because fatigued driving is actually a form of distracted driving.

Studies show that fatigued drivers will fail to recognize up to 50% of the risks in their driving environment. Imagine that a pedestrian walks out into traffic up ahead of your driver. Your driver is running on just a few hours of sleep, so while he technically sees the pedestrian, his brain doesn’t recognize the reason to stop. 

He might hit the person before he knew what was happening.

What Causes Fatigued Driving?

In nearly all fatigued driving incidents, the cause was simple: the driver didn’t have enough sleep. Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep on a consistent basis. Abnormal sleep schedules, staying up too late repeatedly, or even just staying up too late one time leads to fatigued driving.

The solution, of course, is that your drivers need to get enough sleep each and every night.

However, there are rare circumstances where that is not enough to prevent fatigued driving. Drivers are also at risk when they’re on certain medications or have sleep disorders.

In this case, it’s a medical concern. They should talk to their doctor and disclose to you any medications that affect their driving.

How Companies Can Prevent Fatigued Driving

Truck-driver fatigue, work truck fatigue, and light-duty vehicle driver fatigue are high risks for your company.

If you employ people to drive, you need them well-rested. Most of this is on the individual. You count on them to come into work well-rested. That said, there are a few actions you must take.

  1. Institute Fatigued Driving Policies

Policies and procedures aren’t the same things as a safety program, but they are still essential.

You need to put into writing that fatigued driving is not acceptable. Ask that your employees pledge to always get adequate sleep before coming to work.

Additionally, put a policy into place that your drivers can call dispatch when they’re out on the road and are at risk of falling asleep. First-time offenders should never be punished for doing the right thing.

  1. Educate Your Drivers on Fatigued Driving

Truck drivers usually understand how dangerous driving is. That isn’t always the case for pest control technicians, roofers, landscaping crews, and delivery drivers. They need to be educated on the importance of defensive driving.

An online safety training program like The Fleet Safety Course can teach anyone how to be a safe, defensive driver and prevent accidents.

Additionally, you need to host meetings to discuss the dangers of fatigued driving, especially if your workers’ schedules change.

  1. Avoid Problematic Schedules

Depending on your line of business, your employees may not have regular hours. This could put them at risk of fatigued driving. Someone who’s used to being up from 8 a.m. to midnight suddenly having to drive from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. might cause issues.

With that in mind, you must avoid changing your employees' schedules as much as possible. Keep your night shift as your night shift and your day shift as your day shift.

When that isn’t possible, try to limit how much someone’s schedule changes as much as possible. And never schedule someone for a day shift when they had a night shift recently.

Protect Your Employees (And Cost of Loss) From Fatigued Driving

Fatigued driving is the responsibility of your employees. However, your company pays the price if there’s an accident.

Truck driver fatigue, light-duty driver fatigue, and non-CDL driver fatigue are all tremendous problems across many industries.

If you want to reduce your cost of loss while saving lives, invest in solutions to avoid fatigued driving. One incident can put you out of business, but that never has to happen to you.

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