Driver fatigue

One of the most frequently raised issues by freight operators to the Freight Transport Association’s (FTA) Member Advice Centre (MAC) is how to advise drivers to cope with tiredness. Eamonn Brennan is based in the MAC and outlines factors that should be taken into account and how to avoid falling asleep behind the wheel.

Feeling tired when driving can affect the driver’s ability to concentrate on the road ahead and responsive reactions to road hazards can be badly impaired. Research confirms that drivers who fall asleep at the wheel are conscious of feeling sleepy and continue to ‘fight’ sleep for some time before an incident. A driver who has momentarily fallen asleep at the wheel for just 30 seconds at 70mph would have travelled a considerable distance, resulting in a potentially catastrophic incident.

Factors that may cause a driver to fall asleep include:

  • The amount of quality sleep they get before driving
  • Consumption of alcohol
  • Sleep inducing medication
  • Boredom (particularly on long monotonous and featureless roads)
  • Age of the driver
  • Over-the-counter medicines that may cause side effects

Drivers should:

  • Try to ensure they are well rested and feeling fit and healthy before starting the journey
  • Include regular rest breaks (at least 15 minutes every two hours)
  • If necessary, plan an overnight stop
  • Avoid setting out on a long drive after working a full day
  • If feeling sleepy during a journey, stop somewhere safe, take drinks containing caffeine and try and take a short nap

Employers have a responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act, which states that “health and safety law applies to on-the-road work
activities as to all work activities and the risks should be effectively managed within a health and safety system”. Therefore, employers must assess the risks involved in their employees’ use of the road for work and put in place all “reasonably practicable” measures to manage those risks.

Employers should:

  • Raise awareness of driver fatigue and incorporate into driver training
  • Consider alternatives such as train and video conferencing
  • Consider that some staff may have young children or sick relatives
  • Arrange shifts, in particular when shift patterns may give rise to a potential problem and include commuting to and from the workplace
  • Give consideration to allow drivers to stay overnight away from home, while recognising that some drivers may want to return home
  • Actively monitor fatigue in the workplace. Journey planning should be monitored and drivers consulted during the planning process

Remember: tiredness kills, don’t fight sleep, stop in a safe place and take a break.

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