Semi-truck drivers in Massachusetts are often pushed to their absolute limits. In the name of the almighty dollar, they may be incentivized or even required by their employers to make deliveries as quickly as possible. This means long hours on the road, despite federal trucking regulations that limit how long a truck driver can be on-the-job and when rest breaks must be taken and for how long.

Truck driver fatigue can seriously impair the driver’s ability to safely operate their motor vehicle. This fatigue may be the result of strenuous work activities, long hours on-the-job, not getting enough sleep or a combination of these or any other factors. In fact, according to the Large Truck Crash Causation Study, 13 percent of truck drivers suffered from fatigue when they caused a trucking accident.

Due to natural circadian rhythms responsible for a driver’s wake/sleep cycle, if a person is drowsy, these “lulls” can increase in strength, leading to accidents. Most people are naturally more alert during the daytime, rather than at night and especially after 12:00 a.m. These drowsy periods can be even more pronounced if the driver has been on the road for a long time.

Also, if a truck driver skips meals or eats at irregular times, it could cause truck driver fatigue. Going to sleep on an empty stomach, or conversely right after eating a big meal, can affect the quality of one’s sleep. This in turn makes the driver more fatigued, which can reduce the driver’s attention and reaction time. It can also cause a lack of awareness on the road, a reduction in the driver’s judgment ability or even memory lapses.

In addition, some medications cause drowsiness. For example, over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines, sleeping pills and tranquilizers all cause drowsiness. Therefore, before driving, truck drivers should avoid using these drugs and any other prescription or non-prescription drug with a warning label indicating it could make one drowsy. Unfortunately, according to one study, 17 percent of truck drivers reported having taken an over-the-counter medication before causing an accident.

In the end, it is up to truck drivers to make wise choices. If they are fatigued, they should stop driving and find a safe place to rest. Staying alert while on the road is imperative to ensuring that our nation’s streets and highways are safe for all motorists.

Source: FMCSA, “CMV Driving Tips – Driver Fatigue,” accessed March 20, 2017