Sixty percent of all American motorists admit to driving while drowsy in the past year, while 37% admit to falling asleep at the wheel briefly, according to National Sleep Foundation studies. Sleep-related crashes are more likely to occur with shift workers. About seven in 10 people who drive while sleepy are 18 to 29 years old. Statistics show the less sleep you get, the more likely you will be involved in a crash.
According to a study by the American Automobile Association (AAA), people who sleep for six to seven hours per night are twice more likely to crash than those who sleep eight hours per night. A person who sleeps for five hours is five more times likely to crash. People with insomnia or sleep apnea are at even greater risk. Most sleep-related crashes occur between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., Midnight to 2 a.m., and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. No pun intended, but this should be a true wake-up call to drivers behind the wheel during these hours to be especially aware of their surroundings.
Driver Hours of Service
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration takes matters of rest seriously with good reason. Sleepy drivers kill themselves and others. Drivers are allowed behind the wheel a maximum of 10 hours during a 15-hour shift. A driver must be allowed eight-hours off duty before being on-duty again.
If a driver is on duty for more than 60 hours in a seven-day period, the drive time is cut to 8.5 hours per day behind the wheel until the driver has a day off. It is unwise to push a driver to this extreme even if he begs for more hours, or worse yet, you are short drivers and force a driver to drive to the legal limit. A driver who departs to take a group of people to an amusement park two hours away might leave at 6 a.m. (after clocking in at 5:15 a.m.) and be legal until 8:15 p.m. If the group leaves at 6 p.m., the driver has spent nine hours idly on board. Although it might be legal, it might not be safe.
Meals high in fat make us drowsy. Foods such as cheese and eggs produce amino acids that can induce sleep. High sugar content and large meals cause glucose levels to rise and the body releases more insulin. Insulin increases productivity of serotonin and melatonin, both known to cause sleepiness. They are available in pill form specifically to help people sleep. This is why low-fat meals should be consumed before long trips. Eating desserts late at night also can disrupt sleep, according to a report from the Department of Medicine at NYU.
Internal Body Clock
The human body reaches its lowest level of alertness between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. and again around 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Not surprisingly, statistics show most sleep-related crashes occur during those periods. The most common scenario for these accidents involves driving on long, boring rural highways. Drivers need to be extra alert during these periods under those conditions.
Despite the fact that federal laws only require eight-hours of rest between shifts, consider asking drivers if they prefer working early mornings or late nights and try to schedule around their natural body clocks rather than all around the clock. Teach proper eating habits to help them stay alert. Schedule enough time off for them to recharge and be alert while driving.