Lack of Sleep in Big Rig Drivers can be Deadly
Approximately 5,000 people a year are killed in crashes with commercial trucks. Studies have suggested that as many as 50% of all truck crashes are due to driver inattention and other mental lapses that come with the long hours.
Recently, a Nebraska truck driver was sentenced to six months in jail for falling asleep at the wheel and causing a head-on collision with a woman and her 10 month old son. Both the mother and child died in the accident, when the driver crossed a median on I-135 and struck the family’s SUV.
A truck driver from Pennsylvania was responsible for killing a woman in a four vehicle crash in September of 2007. The driver was charged with involuntary manslaughter after he plowed into a Ford Explorer because he failed to notice that the traffic light was red. State Police Sergeant J.P. Koushel described the crash as, “like a bowling ball going through bowling pins.”
Recognizing how dangerous the lack of sleep can be on the roadways, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia limited a truck driver’s shift to 10 hours a day. Previously, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had argued for an extension to an 11 hour daily driving limit.
FMCSA limits on hours of operation all drivers sufficient time to sleep and recover from long days on the road.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours of sleep a night for adults. Lack of sleep has been liked to an increase in the risk of motor vehicle accidents.
Truck drivers who have sleep apnea or get less than five hours of sleep each night are, predictably, more likely to suffer from sleepiness, performance impairment, and decrased task vigilance when behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, there has traditionally been no real good way to tell whether or not a driver has sleep deprivation. That might be changing. Police in Lancaster County, PA have begun using a new eye-testing device, called the Pupillometer, which measures the drivers reaction to light. The pupillometer can also be used to detect the presence of illegal drugs, controlled substances, and over-the-counter medication.