If you read up on the comparisons between drunk driving and drowsy driving, you’ll find they’re both equally dangerous. Both conditions slow reaction time, and affect memory and the brain’s ability to process information. Study after study confirms that exhaustion, like intoxication, impairs driving significantly.
Here’s one that’s particularly compelling: After 17–19 hours without sleep, driving performance is equivalent to or worse than a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%. After 24 hours of sleep deprivation, driving performance is as bad as (or worse than) a 0.1% blood alcohol concentration—well beyond the legal limit. At the 0.08% mark, across all states, you are considered drunk.
How big is the problem?
It’s as widespread as it is dangerous. Sixty percent of adults in the U.S. have self-reported that they have gotten behind the wheel when exhausted; one-third of those people said they have actually fallen asleep at the wheel. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that drowsy driving is a cause of at least 100,000 auto crashes each year. If drowsy driving is so dangerous—and it is—what can fleet managers do to keep drivers safe? It’s a good question, because there’s no way to properly test for sleepiness. There’s no “breathalyzer” for this condition.
The problem is also cultural; our nation doesn't take sleep as seriously as we should. Tiredness feels harmless to us. In some work environments, lack of sleep is even treated like a badge of honor that proves dedication to the job. Aside from the culture of busyness, there are many legitimate reasons for tiredness, such as living with young children, shift work, clinical sleep disorders, side effects of medications, etc. The bottom line is: We can’t force people to sleep. Admittedly, the title of this blog is misleading, because drowsy driving is not something anyone can realistically ‘allow’ or ‘not allow.’ That said, it is something fleet managers can influence.
What can fleet managers do to help keep their drivers safe?
Educate and then educate some more. Share the stats! Proactively keep drowsy driving top of mind for your team.
Remind your drivers about the signs of drowsiness
- Yawning or blinking frequently
- Difficulty remembering the past few miles driven
- Missing their exit
- Drifting from their lane
- Hitting a rumble strip on the side of the road
Educate them on what they should do if they recognize they are drowsy
Rolling down the windows or turning up the volume on the radio will do little to increase alertness while driving. Instead, advise them to:
- Pull off the road and nap for at least 20 minutes
- Drink a caffeinated beverage before the nap, if possible, to give it time to get into their system
List tips for prevention in common areas
Realistically, the best thing they can do is plan ahead. Advise them to:
- Get a full night of seven to eight hours of sleep before driving
- Avoid driving late at night
- Avoid driving alone
- On a long trip, share the driving with another passenger
- Arrange for a ride home after working a late shift
- Develop good sleeping habits, like sticking to a sleep schedule
- If they have a sleep disorder or have symptoms of a sleep disorder (such as snoring or feeling sleepy during the day), they should talk to their physician about treatment options
- Avoid drinking alcohol or taking medications that make them sleepy. Be sure to check the label on any medications or talk to a pharmacist.