Every safety professional knows the dangers of employees driving under the influence, but there’s a much greater threat putting your drivers, community and company at-risk. Have you considered how dangerous (and alarmingly common) drowsy driving is?

Drowsy driving is more common than drunk driving and can be equally as dangerous. Being awake for at least 18 hours is the same as someone having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 percent. Being awake for 24 hours is equal to having a BAC of 0.10 percent. For reference, the BAC needed to be considered legally impaired in the United States is 0.08 percent.

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Drowsy driving is a prevalent problem

Many people do not get the sleep that they need. Whether it be due to work, illness, a longer commute or even a new baby waking up every few hours, fatigue has costly effects on driver health, safety and quality of life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated one in 25 drivers report having fallen asleep within the past 30 days. Drowsy driving was reportedly involved in 2.5 percent of all fatal crashes nationwide from 2011 through 2015. In 2015, the total number of fatalities increased by seven percent compared to 2014.

While there’s no blood panel post-crash to check for drowsiness, those numbers break down to around 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths. Overall, the number of deaths caused by drowsy driving year-over-year are estimated to be as high as 6,000.

Drivers who miss two to three hours of sleep a day more than quadruple their risk of getting into a crash compared to drivers who sleep for seven hours. Even if not falling soundly asleep, drowsy driving can present a large risk as it reduces the ability to pay attention to the road, slows reaction time and adversely affects the ability to make good decisions.

Who’s at-risk

Drowsy driving doesn’t just impact one type of driver. Instead, some of the most affected drivers include:

  • Drivers who don’t get enough sleep
  • Commercial drivers who operate vehicles like tow trucks, tractor trailers and busses
  • Shift works who work the night shift or long shifts
  • Drivers with untreated sleep disorders like sleep apnea
  • Drivers who use medications that make them sleepy

Which of these drivers does your company employ? Think of even those who take common medications such as antidepressants, antihistamines, muscle relaxants, medication for high blood pressure and anxiety. All of these can cause drowsiness despite the necessity that often comes with consuming such medicine.

Consider this – the CDC recommends that adults get at least seven hours of sleep every night but more than a third of American adults aren’t sleeping enough. People who don’t get that recommended amount of sleep wake up to commute to work. Shift workers are specifically at-risk of drowsy driving.

Even if getting enough sleep, it’s more likely to be less restful than workers who operate during daylight hours due to their circadian rhythms. That’s why ensuring your drivers understand the perils of drowsy driving is integral and often acts as a complementary pairing to the stipulations put forth in a company’s safety policy. So, how can companies work to prevent drowsy driving?

How to prevent drowsy driving

Encourage frequent driving breaks

Whether your drivers are going five or 500 miles, if they’re drowsy, make sure that you’re communicating that it’s acceptable to take a break. Take a pulse check with your drivers – before they depart if possible – to understand whether they’re well-rested enough to get behind the wheel without presenting immense risk. If they aren’t, pull them off the road until they are to better protect your company from looming risk.

Promote planning for extra time

Less time spent in between point A and point B is not always a good thing and typically comes at a cost. Promote planning prior to hitting the road, whether for long or short trips, to ensure your drivers can be as safe as possible, feel well-rested and can perform optimally. An extra built in half hour (or more, dependent on the driving needs at hand) can ensure your drivers take the breaks they need to remain sharp at the wheel. 

Educate about drowsy driving warning signs

There are some very apparent warning signs when it comes to drowsy driving your drivers should be aware of. The five most common include:

  • Yawning or blinking frequently
  • Forgetting the past few miles driven
  • Missing an exit
  • Driving from the lane
  • Hitting a rumble strip

Even one of these can mean that it’s time to pull off the road. Such warning signs alert to the trouble potentially ahead that comes with drowsy driving, making it so important to circulate this knowledge with your driver population so they can self-intervene if necessary.

Discourage caffeine as the solution

While you may think that the most logical way to combat drowsy driving is through caffeine, we’re here to dispel that myth. It’s not a replacement for sleep due to the exhausted feeling people often get when the caffeine wears off. Coffee is a diuretic, meaning it can dehydrate your drivers and make them drowsy. The only real solution is a good night’s sleep.

Train drivers on drowsy driving

Driver training allows companies like yours to focus on educating drivers on the ways to effectively combat drowsy driving. Courses ranging in topics including fatigue and wellness awareness, fatigue management, night driving and more can be presented during new driver onboarding or during driver intervention.

When an employee takes a class on drowsy driving, passes a strength of knowledge test and electronically attests they understood, your company is also in-turn legally protected. The power of driver training is not to be underestimated.

Clear communication is key in preventing drowsy driving

Clear communication is key in working to prevent drowsy driving amongst your company’s driving population. The most important tip to remember when managing your driver population is that there’s no destination or deadline worth risking anyone’s lives. Drowsy driving is dangerous, so make sure you’re taking the appropriate steps to ensure your drivers remain safe behind the wheel.

To learn more about the latest driver safety stats every company needs to know surrounding topics like driving behaviors most likely to cause crashes or the amount United States employers spend on crashes each year, download our infographic.


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