Why Your Drivers Deserve a Rest

Everyone needs a break now and then, but especially those who move freight for a living, particularly truck drivers. As the old adage goes, “you can’t underestimate a good night’s rest.” The benefits of a well-rested driver are felt all along the supply chain and out on the highway.

Sleep is an often overlooked factor in truck utilization and driver productivity. A six-month study conducted by FleetRisk Advisors found half the drivers at a large truckload carrier were trained in the science of sleep and half were not. A closer look revealed that the sleep-educated drivers ran 10% more miles per tractor-week compared to the control group, while maintaining 100% compliance with hours-of-service regulations.

For a truck running 2,500 miles per week, adding 250 miles at today’s spot van line-haul rates (averaging about $2.40 a mile excluding fuel surcharge) would produce an extra $600 a week in revenue, or $30,000 a year.

The Time is Now

There’s no better time to educate drivers, dispatchers, management, and others about sleep science than now. In July and August, truckload accident frequency was approximately 12% higher than the average in April, May, and June. These longer days mean people are spending more hours out of the house and on the road—and it seems they’re sacrificing sleep to do so.

Daylight and Sleep

It may seem obvious, but the sleep-wake cycle is driven primarily by the rising and setting of the sun. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex sleep system our bodies have in place, as the optic nerve begins to sense that light levels are decreasing each evening, our bodies begin to produce more melatonin, a natural hormone associated with sleep. The bottom line is that there’s a connection between hours of daylight and the amount of sleep our bodies naturally crave.

Transit times and pickup-and-delivery schedules are rarely oriented around the driver’s sleep-wake cycle or daylight hours. If a shipper wants a trailer against the dock at 5:30 a.m., the driver may have to wake up hours earlier in order to eat, commute to the truck, inspect the vehicle, and get to the shipper’s location at a reasonable time.

A study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that driver alertness was closely correlated to “time-of-day” more so than “time-on-task.” In summer, when there’s more daylight, the FMCSA research illustrates that truckers who sleep during the day get around 2.5 hours less sleep each day compared to their dayshift colleagues who sleep at night.

And herein lies the challenge of prescriptive hours-of-service regulations and a one-size-fits-all approach to the driver’s duty cycle.

What You Can Do

  1. Remember that no matter how long a driver’s on-duty period may be, or the time of day a driver starts work, sunlight affects the timing of the sleep-wake cycle.
  2. Lack of sleep can result in crashes any time of the day or night. If you employ drivers or manage their schedule, don’t assume that a 10-hour break means that a driver has had enough sleep and is rested and alert.
  3. If you’re responsible for training drivers or running a safety meeting, talk about how much sleep they’re getting and specifically what you want drivers to do when they’re feeling tired. Loop your dispatchers and managers into the conversation so everyone is on the same page.
  4. Treat your drivers as you would normal employees in the office, they deserve normal schedules, consistent breaks, and uninterrupted sleep.
  5. Dedicate time and resources to teaching the importance of sleep science. Diet, medication, naps, sleep duration, and the number of sleep cycles (90 minutes of sleep at a time) in a 24-hour period are factors that can affect a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely.
  6. Over and above hours-of-service compliance, make sure every driver gets at least two periods of consecutive night sleep every seven days so that any accumulated sleep debt from the prior workweek is reset to zero.

Shippers and receivers play a role in the driver’s productivity and wellbeing. In today’s supply chain environment, no trucker will lose sleep over rejecting a load, if it means better safety, health, and productivity for the driver.

Written by:
Tim Griffin
Director of Marketing & Media, C.L. Services Transport

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