Commercial Drivers at High Risk for Drowsy Driving

Commercial Drivers at High Risk for Drowsy Driving

Almost everyone knows that it’s against the law to drink and drive, but few people realize that driving drowsy can be just as dangerous as driving drunk.

Nearly 30 percent of drivers in a USDOT study reported driving “when they were so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open” at least once in a 30 day period.

The people most likely to report driving drowsy are those who work as commercial drivers and on shift work, according to the CDC. The danger is thought to be to the changing shift times and lengths of their commutes.

One in seven car crashes involves a large truck. Studies show that there is a severe issue with truck drivers not getting enough sleep on days they spend on the road. They average about 5 hours of sleep per night rather than the recommended 7 to 8 hours.

What is the Law Regarding Sleep for Commercial Drivers?

By federal law, commercial drivers can only drive 70 hours per week. They are also mandated to not be driving during the hours of 1 and 5 a.m. at least twice in a week.

While that might seem silly, it was found to be necessary after companies were allowing drivers to continue driving all night. The legislation only changed in 2013 after a comedian Tracy Morgan was critically injured after the van he was riding in was hit by a Walmart truck. That truck driver had been driving for 24 hours straight.

Before, they could drive 82 hours a week, and there were no night requirements.

President Barack Obama attempted to add regulations that required commercial drivers to have two nights off per week, but it was blocked by Republican lawmakers, according to the Associated Press.

How does Drowsiness Affect Driving?

According to a National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study, approximately 17 percent – or more – of car crashes caused by lane drifting were because the driver fell asleep. Accidents that include a sleeping or drowsy driver are more likely to be fatal or cause serious injury because the driver does not attempt to swerve or hit the brakes.

If someone has not slept in 24 hours, it has the same effect on their driving abilities as if you had a blood alcohol content level above 0.10, according to the New York Times.

“…just missing two hours of sleep can quadruple a driver’s crash risk,” said Amy Stracke, Managing Director, Traffic Safety Advocacy for AAA, in the 2017 news release.

How to Address Drowsy Driving:

The best way to address drowsy driving is for the drivers to get a good night’s sleep. There’s no substitute for it. Each driver should find a mattress that suits their sleep needs.

The other two options are drinking caffeine and napping. The best option, according to scientists, is a combination of the two.

Depending on how old the driver is, the effectiveness of each option changes – drivers over the age of 65 see more of a benefit from caffeine, while people between 18 and 44 see better results from a nap.

NASA scientists swear by the 26-minute nap, and sleep scientists agree.

Also, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, part of the United States Department of Transportation,  recommends adding 15 minutes after a nap to allow the napper’s brain to wake up fully before driving again.

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Guest author-Amy Highland is a sleep expert at Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy’s a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.