The underestimated dangers of driver fatigue

Published on November 17, 2014 in Driver Safety by Tori Denning

Driver fatigue is often an underestimated danger. Drivers may endure long trips and inconsistent driving schedules, and consequently driving while tired.

Driver fatigue is often an underestimated danger.  Many companies rely on their fleets for product deliveries, transporting goods between warehouses, and getting to remote job sites.  Fleet drivers may endure long trips and inconsistent driving schedules, and consequently find themselves driving while tired. An American study concerned with this issue concluded that being awake for 17 to 19 hours straight causes performance impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration of .05 percent [1]. Even more staggering is the significance of the impairment of driver decision making abilities.

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 report “Sleep in America”, of the 168 million adult drivers polled, 60 percent admit to driving while drowsy [2]. Additionally, 37 percent reported falling asleep behind the wheel [3]. The NHTSA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, made a conservative estimation when stating that 100,000 of police reported crashes each year are due to driver fatigue [4]. Professionals have difficulty generating these estimations since it is hard to prove fatigue is the sole cause of accidents. There are no tests that can be administered similar to alcohol impairment and currently, police do not include a regulated fatigue assessment in investigation practices. Driver fatigue is more common in people who are part of the following demographics [5]:

  • Young adult males
  • People living with children in their homes
  • Shift workers with inconsistent schedules or long commutes

Drowsiness can have a fast onset and even professional drivers may not consider fatigue to be a big enough threat to act right away.  In the “Sleep in America” report, it also estimated that only 1 in 5 drivers will recognize drowsiness and pull over to rest when feeling tired [6]. The most obvious and alarming consequence of continued driving is falling asleep at the wheel, however other ramifications that may also lead to accidents include:

  • Drivers to become impatient or irritable, and therefore more susceptible to road rage
  • Decreasing the driver’s alertness, which may result in missing traffic signals or road signs
  • Decreasing the driver’s ability to drive defensively amongst other vehicles

Driver fatigue poses an increasing threat for companies who rely on their drivers to be safe and alert. If there is an employee accident or injury  due to driver fatigue, it can cause millions of dollars in damages as well as potential lawsuits if there is third party involvement. The need for technology to monitor this issue is also growing, and some ideas have been circling the industry with eye scans, heart rate detectors, etc. being mentioned. It is the responsibility of both fleet organizations and their drivers to ensure safety and best practices behind the wheel. These include being well rested, strong recognition and decision making skills, and always taking the appropriate steps when feeling the onset fatigued.

While telematics technology helps track the health and status of vehicles, in addition to helping managers better manage their drivers, fatigue must also be a key consideration. A fatigued driver has a significantly increased risk of a crash as driving performance is impaired. Fleet and business safety managers must encourage their drivers to spot key driver fatigue symptoms, such as trouble focusing and slower reaction times, and to stay off the roads. The consequences of accidents linked to fatigue have been found to be more serious, since drivers in this state typically make little attempt to avoid the crash.

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Geotab's blog posts are intended to provide information and encourage discussion on topics of interest to the telematics community at large. Geotab is not providing technical, professional or legal advice through these blog posts. While every effort has been made to ensure the information in this blog post is timely and accurate, errors and omissions may occur, and the information presented here may become out-of-date with the passage of time.

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