Truck drivers play a vital role in the economy by transporting goods across the country. However, their job comes with unique challenges that can impact their ability to get adequate sleep. In this article, we’ll explore the sleep-related issues faced by truckers and whether they get enough shut-eye.
How many hours can truckers drive per day?
Federal regulations limit how many hours commercial truck drivers can be on the road each day and week. Here are the basic rules:
- Drivers can drive a maximum of 11 hours per day.
- After driving 11 hours, they must rest for 10 consecutive hours.
- Drivers can’t exceed 60 hours of driving over 7 consecutive days or 70 hours over 8 consecutive days.
In addition, drivers must take a 30-minute break after 8 hours of driving. These mandatory rest periods aim to prevent fatigued driving.
How much sleep do truckers get per day?
With an 11-hour daily driving limit, how much time does that leave for sleep? Unfortunately, not much.
A typical long-haul trucker may drive for the maximum 11 hours, taking the required 30-minute break. After finishing the drive time, they must spend 10 hours off duty. That 30-minute break plus 10 hours totals 10.5 hours. Subtracting 10.5 hours from the 24 hours in a day leaves just 13.5 hours.
Within that 13.5 hours, a trucker must fit time for:
- Completing paperwork
- Vehicle inspections/maintenance
- Loading/unloading cargo
- Waiting during deliveries/pickups
Considering these other demands, most truckers end up getting less than 8 hours of sleep per day. Some may average only 5-6 hours. It’s no wonder many drivers resort to dangerous tactics like driving while fatigued.
What are the consequences of truckers not getting enough sleep?
Drowsy driving can have devastating consequences. Fatigue slows reaction times, reduces attention and situational awareness, and impairs judgment – making accidents more likely. Here are some sobering statistics on the impact of tired trucking:
- The FMCSA estimates 13% of commercial truck crashes involve fatigue.
- Drowsy driving causes over 1,000 deaths and 76,000 injuries per year in the U.S.
- Sleep-deprived truckers have a crash risk comparable to drunk drivers with blood alcohol concentrations between .04 to .05.
The enormous size and weight of trucks compared to other vehicles on the road compounds these risks further. Clearly, lack of sleep is a public safety issue.
What factors lead to sleep deprivation in truckers?
So what’s preventing truckers from getting adequate rest? Here are some of the top contributors:
1. Pressure to meet tight delivery windows
Shippers and receivers often impose narrow time windows for pickups and deliveries. If a trucker misses the appointment slot, they may face long wait times that throw off their schedule. This encourages truckers to violate sleep rules to make the delivery on time.
2. Financial incentives to maximize driving hours
Many truckers get paid by the delivery or mile. This pay structure rewards them for packing in more driving hours and miles regardless of fatigue. Taking rest breaks cuts into their bottom line.
3. Lack of adequate truck parking
Truckers struggle to find safe, convenient places to park their rigs and rest. Limited parking availability and crowding at rest areas force them to park in unsafe areas like highway shoulders. This makes it difficult to get uninterrupted sleep.
4. Grueling schedules
Trucking often involves long stretches away from home for weeks or months at a time. Truckers can feel pressure to make the most of their time away by driving as much as possible. But this leaves little time for proper rest and recovery between shifts.
5. Health problems
Health conditions like sleep apnea are more prevalent among truckers compared to the general public. Sleep apnea causes repeated breathing interruptions during sleep, resulting in poor quality rest. Truckers with undiagnosed or untreated conditions are at an increased crash risk.
6. Lack of education
Many truckers are unaware of the dangers of drowsy driving and the importance of sleep. Better education on fatigue management during driver training could help improve safety.
How much sleep do truckers need?
Sleep needs vary by individual, but the consensus among sleep experts is that adults should get 7-9 hours per night. For truckers, aiming for the higher end of this range is recommended given the demanding nature of their job.
Here are some guidelines on the sleep requirements for truck drivers:
- 7-9 hours of daily sleep opportunity
- Sleep opportunity should include 6-8 hours of uninterrupted nightly sleep
- Daytime napping can supplement nighttime sleep
- 30-minute naps and split sleep schedules are less effective than full nighttime sleep
Truckers who don’t get adequate sleep may accumulate a “sleep debt” over time. This deficit can only be paid back with additional recovery sleep. Otherwise, performance and alertness will continue to suffer.
How can truckers get better quality sleep?
Making time for sufficient sleep is only part of the equation. The sleep that truckers get also needs to be high quality and restorative. Here are some tips to improve sleep:
- Park at safe, quiet rest areas when possible
- Use blackout curtains in the cab sleeper compartment
- Choose a comfortable truck mattress and bedding
- Manage caffeine intake, especially after mid-afternoon
- Avoid large meals, alcohol and screen time before bed
- Use white noise or earplugs to block noise
- Follow a relaxing pre-bed routine
- Take short naps (20-30 mins) in the afternoon
Truckers with suspected sleep disorders like apnea should get evaluated by a doctor. Effective treatments can help restore normal sleep patterns.
What technologies help improve trucker safety?
Beyond individual sleep hygiene efforts, implementing technologies that support safety is crucial. Here are some innovations seeing use:
Electronic logging devices (ELDs)
ELDs automatically track driving time and other duty status events. This removes reliance on paper logs, improving compliance with hours of service rules.
In-cab alertness/drowsiness monitoring
In-vehicle systems use biometric data to detect driver drowsiness and trigger warnings to improve attention and alertness.
Automated emergency braking
These collision avoidance systems identify stopped or slowed vehicles ahead and automatically brake if the driver fails to respond.
Lane departure warning
LDW systems alert drivers drifting out of the travel lane, addressing lane-keeping impairment caused by fatigue.
Fatigue and distraction monitoring
New camera-based systems passively monitor driver fatigue and distraction behaviors that may indicate impaired alertness.
Fleet management analytics
Fleet software aggregates data on driver behaviors and events to identify risky patterns and guide safety interventions.
Mandating and incentivizing the use of technologies like these will be key to enforcing compliance with sleep regulations and reducing fatigued driving.
What policy changes could improve trucker sleep?
Beyond embracing safety technologies, further policy reforms are needed to make adequate sleep more feasible for truckers.
Here are some ideas that have been proposed by transportation agencies, researchers and industry groups:
- Increase minimum daily off-duty time beyond 10 hours
- Extend mandatory 30-minute break to 1 hour
- Require split rest periods (e.g. 5 hours + 5 hours)
- Adjust hours of service rules based on fatigue models and biomathematical data
- Limit weekly on-duty work hours
- Require obstructive sleep apnea screening/testing
- Increase number and accessibility of truck parking spaces
- Adjust retail supply chain practices to allow more flexible delivery windows
- Revise industry pay models to emphasize safety over driving hours
A collaborative approach between regulators, carriers and shippers will be needed to enact meaningful reforms that improve safety as well as driver health and wellbeing.
Most long-haul truckers struggle to get adequate daily sleep. Financial pressures, industry scheduling demands, and lack of sufficient rest locations all contribute to sleep deprivation. Fatigued trucking puts drivers and the public at risk. Policy changes, exploitation of technologies, driver education on sleep hygiene and increased access to treatment for sleep disorders could help address the problem. With the essential role truckers play in keeping our economy running, ensuring they are well-rested should be a top priority.