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FMCSA studies show how fatigue figures into truck crashes

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducts studies about such subjects as driver fatigue to better understand and prevent truck-related crashes.

Commercial truck drivers work long hours, and while the fatigue associated with this type of work schedule can be a contributing factor in truck-car accidents, FMCSA researchers drill deeper into the causes.

Time of day

One FMCSA study found that driver alertness relates more to time of day than to time on task. Drivers are less alert at night, especially in the hours after midnight. In fact, that is when the circadian rhythm comes into play for the longest period of time.

The wake-sleep cycle

The body goes through a wake-sleep sequence called the circadian rhythm every night and every day. It involves the internal clock that regulates the body’s level of alertness. There is a natural lull in the circadian rhythm between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. and again between midnight and 6 a.m., which is prime time for driver fatigue and resulting crashes.

The first hour of driving

Another FMCSA study shows that accidents are most likely to happen in the first hour after waking. For example, if a driver sleeps in his sleeper berth, then starts to drive shortly after waking, he may experience the effects of sleep inertia. This refers to issues with performance tasks. In other words, the driver may have problems with cognitive functions, reaction time, vigilance and the desire to go back to sleep during that critical first hour of driving.

A look down the road

One FMCSA report,” The Large Truck Crash Causation Study,” showed that 13% of commercial truck drivers were suffering from fatigue at the time they crashed. That percentage may not seem high, but when considering the injuries and fatalities those crashes caused, it is easy to see the accidents from a different perspective—which is why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration continues to study truck crashes and how the next potential accident might be prevented.

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