This is a summary of the first lesson of Module 3 of the North American Fatigue Management Program (NAFMP). This module includes four lessons plus a summary designed to help drivers acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to fight fatigued driving as part of a Fatigue Management Programs, or FMP. Due to the length of this module (157 PowerPoint slides), I will be dividing this module into several blog posts.
All the lessons in this module (particularly lesson 4…stay tuned) provide an outline of areas lawyers may wish to explore with a driver with regard to alertness and driving commercial motor vehicles. This can also provide potential deposition questions for a safety manager or company owner about efforts they have taken to make sure their drivers had the knowledge, skills and attitudes listed in this module.
Lesson 1: Fatigue may include decreased alertness, performance and motivation, along with irritability, drowsiness, impaired judgment, microsleeps and tunnel vision. Alertness is affected by internal factors (sleep, time of day, stimulants, health, mood and more) and task-related factors (time on task, complexity and monotony). Sleep is the most important way to combat fatigue. Fatigue can be acute or chronic.
In a 1993 Stanford study, 22% of people were not able to predict when they were going to fall asleep within the next 2 minutes. In others, self-rating of fatigue is often inaccurate in contrast to objective measures. For example, in a 1999 study 44% of drivers who crashed after falling asleep at the wheel said they were “not at all drowsy” or only slightly drowsy, whereas only 11% had 8 or more hours sleep the night before.
Several yes answers to these questions likely indicate chronic sleep deprivation:
- Do you fall asleep in 5 minutes or less?
- Can you nap almost anywhere, anytime?
- Do you feel sleepy when bored?
- Do you easily fall asleep watching TV/movies?
- Do you ever fall asleep at traffic lights?
Sleep can be “banked.” When sleep deprived, a person has a sleep “debt” that can only be paid with sleep.
Fatigue-related crashes are usually single vehicles leaving the road, a driver with no passenger, on monotonous roads, between 2am and 7am and usually serious crashes. A 1998 Australian study found that truck drivers with 6 hours sleep or less are 3 times more likely to have a hazardous incident and 2.5 times more likely to nod off.
Fatigue can cause a crash directly (falling asleep at the wheel) or by raising the risk of driver error, for example, failing to see vehicles in front of you. A USDOT study of more than 1,000 serious large truck crashes showed 13% involved fatigue and 4% were the result of the driver falling asleep at the wheel. A 1990 NTSB study of 182 truck crashed in which the truck driver was killed showed 31% were primarily due to fatigue. It is difficult to estimate fatigue-related crashes due to the nature of the collision and how fatigue works.
To download Module 3, go to http://www.nafmp.org/en/downloads.html.
As a person with sleep apnea, I used to answer “yes” to all 5 of the questions above. I committed myself to stopping and sleeping at road-side rest stops when tired and even hired a driver for longer trips (I know that not everybody has this option; but it was something I was fortunate enough to be able to do and did so because I take it so seriously.) I initially was prescribed a CPAP machine that just didn’t work for me. My sleep doctor is great. He had me try a BiPAP machine, which works very well for me. The last year since I started on BiPAP has been great. I have much more energy and alertness. I hope that truck drivers and anybody reading this with chronic fatigue will get checked for sleep apnea. It can make a huge difference in your enjoyment of life and can save lives!
Michael Leizerman is a lawyer and truck safety advocate who has handled truck accident cases involving fatigue, false log books, distracted driving, road rage and other fatigue-related circumstances.