Distinguishing drowsiness vs fatigue is an important issue for the trucking industry. This is the message from a report from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The report explains the difference between the two issues of fatigue and drowsiness.
“Fatigue is a known contributor to roadway crashes among commercial motor vehicle drivers, others who drive for work, and the general public,” said the NIOSH notice. “Not surprisingly, the issue of fatigued driving is a growing safety concern for government agencies, businesses, and safety advocates. However, in media reports and safety materials, we often see the terms ‘drowsy driving’ and ‘fatigued driving’ used interchangeably. But do they really mean the same thing?
“Drowsiness generally refers to the result of sleep restriction, disturbed sleep, or poor quality sleep. It may also result from medication side effects. According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, people who sleep 6 to 7 hours a night are twice as likely to be involved in a sleep-related crash as those sleeping 8 hours or more. People sleeping less than 5 hours increase their risk four to five times.
“Fatigue, on the other hand, is a broader concept that has been defined in many different ways. While drowsiness can be a component of fatigue, fatigue can also result from a range of other sources such as stress, physical demands, or health conditions. These can have a combined or cumulative effect, with long-lasting consequences. All these sources affect the same region in the brain that is responsible for cognitive functions such as concentration, hand-eye coordination, and decision-making – skills that are needed for safe driving.”
NIOSH tells us fatigue can affect anyone, and it can be difficult to predict. Whether cognitive impairments stem from lack of sleep, sleep disruptions, or other sources, it’s critical from a safety perspective to recognise when driving skills may be compromised, and to take appropriate precautions.
The institute has developed some strategies for reducing fatigue behind the wheel. These include improving sleep habits to obtain adequate, quality sleep. ‘Quick sleep tips for truck drivers’.
Drivers are recommended to take frequent breaks during their journey to break up the monotony of driving. Reduce or eliminate distractions such as mobile phones. As drivers become more fatigued, our ability to sustain concentration is compromised. Truck drivers are also urged to adopt a healthy lifestyle (e.g., diet and exercise).