While most people are probably aware of the potential consequences of driving while intoxicated, many may not know that fatigue can have the same impact on judgement and reaction times. The TASB Risk Management Fund (Fund) recommends that all drivers get an adequate amount of rest and pay attention to signs of driver fatigue, whether you are a bus driver, teacher, superintendent, or in another position at your organization.
What is driver fatigue?
Fatigue is the result of physical or mental exertion that impairs performance due to a lack of adequate sleep, extended work hours, strenuous activities, or a combination of other factors. Drowsiness is a contributing factor in a significant number of vehicle crashes and fatalities each year. The Large Truck Crash Causation Study reported that 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their crash. Research has also shown that lack of sleep can impair driving performance as much as, or more than, alcohol. In fact, the effects of staying awake for at least 17 consecutive hours is equivalent to that of a blood-alcohol concentration at or above legal limits while driving.
Symptoms of driver fatigue
It is difficult for drivers to accurately assess their own level of fatigue. The ability to self-assess becomes increasingly impaired as you get more fatigued, but the driver is often still confident in their ability.
There are some warning signs of driver fatigue to look out for, including:
- Trouble focusing or narrowing of attention
- Head nodding or inability to keep the eyes open
- Not remembering the last few minutes
- Poor judgement
- Slow reaction time
- Daydreaming and wandering thoughts
- Constant yawning or rubbing your eyes
- Drifting in the lane
Keep in mind that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms of driver fatigue, it is very likely that your driving performance is impaired.
Consequences of driver fatigue
The consequences of driver fatigue can be disastrous. Because fatigue impairs mental processing and decision-making abilities, drivers can lapse into a micro-sleep (short episodes of sleeping) without realizing it. Each episode may only last a few seconds, but if it coincides with the need to perform a critical driving task such as turning the wheel or stopping at a stop sign, the risk of crashing is greatly increased.
These accidents typically involve a single vehicle that departs the driving lane and collides with another object, such as a tree or another vehicle. The driver is often alone, driving for several hours, often between midnight and 6 a.m. Consequences of accidents attributed to driver fatigue are often the most serious in terms of death, injuries, and property damage because the fatigued driver makes no attempt to avoid the impending crash.
Recommended rest time
The Fund recommends adopting policies at member organizations that state employees and any authorized drivers may not operate a vehicle in a state of fatigue or while using prescription or over-the-counter medication that may adversely impact their ability to safely operate the vehicle. These rules should apply to all levels of authorized drivers, not just bus drivers.
For staff who operate light to medium duty vehicles and for whom driving is not the primary job duty, such as coaches, there are driving and rest hours recommended by National Safety Council and the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety.
- Working no more than eight hours per day (driving and non-driving), including breaks, and no more than 40 hours in one week, including breaks.
- Driving no more than two consecutive hours, with a break of at least 15 minutes after every two hours.
- Taking off at least 11 hours from driving after eight hours of driving in a day.
Remember, these are recommendations based on research. Incorporate this information as part of a discussion with your staff to measure how you’re currently operating and how closely you can meet these goals. Contact your risk solutions consultant for more information about and training courses on driver fatigue.