What is Driver Fatigue?
A 2010 article in U.S. News and World Report says that driving while tired (aka “drowsy driving”) is just as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. Just like drunk driving, “tired driving” can be deadly. The state of New Jersey was the first to adopt Maggie’s Law, named after a 20-year-old who was killed by a tired driver. Maggie’s Law states that drivers who cause a fatality after being awake for 24 hours or more may be prosecuted for vehicular homicide. According to the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL), a number of other states are considering adopting similar laws.
It is dangerous to drive a car while drowsy. Now imagine the havoc a drowsy driver of semi-truck carrying tons of cargo or flammable materials could cause. This has been proven recently in the well-publicized accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan in which his limousine was hit by a truck driver who had been awake for 24 hours.
The Truck Safety Coalition is very concerned about the issue of drowsy driving, particularly among the nation’s truck drivers. They provide some statistics and other information on their website:
- Truck driver fatigue has been “a recognized safety concern and a contributing factor” in truck crashes involving fatalities for more than 70 years.
- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has conducted studies that show that 65% of truck drivers report that they “often or sometimes feel drowsy while driving.” Around half of the truck drivers surveyed said that they “had actually fallen asleep while driving in the previous year.”
- Although the trucking industry is well aware of the problem of drowsy driving, the “hours of service (HOS) rule” was raised from 10 to 11 hours behind the wheel during any given 14-hour work day.
The FMCSA HOS rule approving driving shifts of up to 11 hours has been overturned in court twice. In 2013, the rule was challenged again, and a 2013 decision kept the 11-hour limit for drivers carrying cargo, but allows for 10-hour shifts if a driver is carrying passengers (per the FMCSA’s “Summary of Hours of Service Regulations (updated March 2014).
U.S. News and World Report offers the following advice to any drivers considering driving while tired:
- Have a designated driver if/when you’re sleep deprived. Try not to take long car trips alone.
- Use public transportation. If you’ve worked an extremely long shift, take the bus or a commuter train home if possible.
- Take medication labels seriously. Warnings about drowsiness may not be sufficient. For example, if a drug bottle says that it may make a user drowsy for four to six hours, drowsiness may actually last longer.
- Watch out for warning signs of drowsiness.These include difficulty keeping your eyes open, the inability to keep your head up, daydreaming, drifting from your lane, or tailgating, according to the AAA Foundation
- Pull off the road. If you feel that simply can’t stay awake, try to find a safe location (such as a busy, well-lit truck stop open 24 hours that caters to truckers and other long-distance drivers) and get a few hours of sleep.