Heavy Vehicle Drivers and Driver 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 is a gradual decline of physical and mental alertness that can lead to 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 heavy vehicle drivers are not the only ones predisposed to fatigue at the wheel, this problem is of particular concern for them 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, speeding and distraction.

Recognizing the signs of fatigue

  • You yawn often
  • Your eyes are burning
  • You have trouble keeping your eyes open
  • You have trouble:
    • finding a comfortable position, e.g. shifting around in your seat
    • concentrating and staying attentive, e.g. missing an exit
    • maintaining a steady speed and keeping the vehicle on a straight course
  • Your reactions are slower
  • 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
  • take a break
  • stretch your legs and perform 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, that is, you cannot simply "decide" to be less tired. The only solution is to sleep.

You must make the most of the time provided to recover so you can function well at work. You need to:

  • plan your free time so that you get enough sleep
  • exercise and eat healthy meals
  • plan your itinerary by factoring circadian "low points"
  • consult a physician if you think you have a sleep disorder

Risk factors

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

  • the number of waking hours
  • the time of day
  • the biological clock
  • the sleep debt
  • alcohol, drug or medication use
  • a sleep disorder

A combination of 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 targets heavy vehicle drivers and their families, employers, shippers, dispatchers and company safety supervisors.

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: May 17, 2022