Everyone needs a good 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Truck drivers are only getting half that amount. That’s not good for the driver, the company, or the public.
Here’s a sobering statistic: the average lifespan for a long-haul commercial driver is 17 years less than the average American…61 years old rather than 78 years old. Realize that, at 61, you’re not even old enough to take advantage of early retirement on Social Security.
Last month, the Travelers insurance company held their Third Annual Safety Symposium. The first symposium had covered the issue of safety systems and telematics; the second had covered cargo theft. This year, the meeting was focused on the very important issues of driver health and wellness. We’re all dealing with the ongoing problem of an ever-growing driver shortage. Add into that the fact that long-haul truck drivers have very negative health statistics and the situation gets even worse.
More than 90% of drivers are obese or overweight, according to symposium speaker Erin Mabry, senior research associate at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s Center for Bus and Truck Safety. The very nature of the job contributes to the problems, including long hours sitting behind the wheel, lack of exercise, irregular shiftwork, and poor nutrition and eating habits. Maintaining good exercise and eating habits on the road is not easy; it takes planning and time.
Sleep deprivation is a real threat to a person’s health and the public’s safety. That’s because drowsy driving, according to the NHTSA, causes more than 70,000 accidents a year. Sleep deprivation has been linked to a number of well-publicized accidents, including train derailments and the Exxon Valdez spill. And sleep deprivation can be linked to a number of the health issues plaguing truck drivers, including obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. The reality is that, on average, an adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Many commercial truck drivers, according to Mabry, get only half that amount.
Other issues can also contribute to drowsiness, including alcohol, certain medications, and surprisingly to some people, caffeine. Yes, you do get that initial jolt but, as Adam Seidner, global medical director for Travelers noted, “people do perform better at first, before fading over time.” Because caffeine decreases sleep over time, once people come down from that caffeine high, they end up worse than if they’d had no caffeine at all. We all know that a driver doesn’t need to actually be asleep at the wheel for an accident to occur. Just being drowsy reduces attention to one’s surroundings and reaction time in avoiding an accident.
Travelers’ Seidner made it clear at the Symposium that fleets need to focus on the health of their employees and that they need to create programs to improve their drivers’ health and wellness. Companies need to focus on how a driver’s lack of sleep and the high-risk health conditions that go along with that pose a financial risk to the company should an accident occur.
And that could result in a bad night’s sleep for everyone.
Does your company have a health and wellness program for drivers? Tell us about it.