Heavy Vehicle Drivers and Fatigue

To prevent driver fatigue, you cannot rely solely on legislation governing driving and off-duty time. Your lifestyle also plays a major role! The North American Fatigue Management Program (NAFMP) could be very helpful to you.

Driver fatigue, in brief

Fatigue leads to a gradual decline of physical and mental alertness that can result in drowsiness or sleepiness.

Fatigue impairs our faculties, and we often do not even realize it. Just like alcohol, accumulated fatigue reduces our ability to concentrate, affects our judgment and reflexes, and thus our ability to drive.

Although all drivers are subject to fatigue at the wheel, heavy vehicle drivers are especially prone to this problem, in particular due to:

  • long work hours
  • irregular schedules
  • night shifts
  • the long distances covered

Did you know?

Fatigue is one of the leading causes of death on our roads, along with alcohol, speed and distraction.

Recognizing the signs of fatigue

Some signs don't lie:

  • You yawn often.
  • Your eyes are itchy.
  • You have trouble:
    • keeping your eyes open,
    • finding a comfortable position (e.g., you're shifting around in your seat),
    • concentrating and staying attentive (e.g., you missed an exit),
    • maintaining a steady speed and keeping the vehicle on a straight course.
  • Your reactions are slower (e.g., you don’t apply the brakes as quickly as the situation requires).
  • You have memory lapses (e.g., you can’t remember the last few kilometres driven).
  • You are seeing things that are not there, particularly when there is fog or on monotonous stretches of highway (e.g., you think you see an animal on the road).
  • You stop looking in your rearview mirrors.

What to do at the first signs of fatigue

When fatigue sets in, the only way to counteract it is to pull over in a safe location to:

  • take a 15- to 30-minute nap, which will help increase your alertness for a period of 2 to 3 hours. Drinking coffee can also help, especially if it is consumed before the nap
  • take an extended break and do a few simple physical exercises
  • notify your manager of your state of fatigue

To manage your fatigue on a daily basis

Fatigue cannot be controlled. You cannot simply "decide" to be less tired. The only solution is to sleep.

Use your time off to recuperate so you can report for duty feeling your best:

  • Plan your free time so that you get enough sleep.
  • Exercise and maintain a healthy diet.
  • Plan your trips by factoring in “dips” in your circadian rhythm.
  • Talk to a doctor if you think you have a sleep disorder.

Risk factors

Generally speaking, the risk of a driver being involved in a fatigue-related accident depends on a number of factors:

  • the hours of wakefulness
  • the time of day
  • the biological clock
  • the sleep debt
  • the length of the trip
  • the use of alcohol, drug or medication
  • a sleep disorder

A combination of these factors considerably increases the risk. Know and respect your limits!

The effects of a long period of wakefulness: similar to the effects of alcohol

A laboratory study (Williamson and Feyer, 2000) compared the effects of a long period of wakefulness to the effects of alcohol (blood alcohol concentration):

  • Between 17 and 19 hours of wakefulness: Physical and mental capacities are comparable to those of a person with a blood alcohol concentration of 50 mg of alcohol/100 ml of blood (0.05).
  • After 24 hours of wakefulness: Physical and mental capacities are comparable to those of a person with a blood alcohol concentration of 100 mg of alcohol/100 ml of blood (0.10).

In the long run

Inadequate or poor sleep can have adverse effects on your overall health.

North American Fatigue Management Program

The goal of the North American Fatigue Management Program is to reduce driver fatigue, improve the quality of life of drivers, and lower the rate of accidents caused by fatigue and the related costs. The program is particulary intended for heavy vehicle drivers and their families, employers, shippers, dispatchers and carrier safety managers.

The main goals of the program are to understand fatigue and to convey the importance of proper sleep hygiene and a healthy lifestyle.

Last update: October  5, 2022