How Truckers Can Stay Awake When Driving During A State Of Emergency
Written By Lucas Kibby, CleanFleet
As the nation battles coronavirus (COVID-19), the trucking industry has been given a chance to be heroes by keeping freight moving, keeping stores stocked with food and necessities, and more.
The FMCSA has allowed a temporary nationwide waiver of hours-of-service (HOS) rules for commercial drivers transporting goods related to the COVID-19 outbreak. It will last until the end of the day on April 12 or until the end of the emergency declared Friday by President Trump, whichever is sooner.
This will affect a huge amount of the industry as it will impact equipment and supplies of food for the emergency restocking of stores.
If your load meets these guidelines, there is no limit on the hours of service driving the truck. However, the FMCSA order does say that when a driver has completed a delivery, he or she must receive 10 hours of off duty if delivering goods and eight hours if transporting passengers.
One other provision: if a driver has completed COVID-19 relief work, but then is returning empty to his or her base, they can do so without violating federal rules.
So, there will be a lot of truckers on the road driving tired or fatigued. Below is a list of tips to help long haul drivers stay awake while driving day or night. Before we start this list, let’s first address what NOT to do to prevent fatigued driving.
Bad tips to keep long haul driver awake while driving
Drugs: Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way. On social media, such as Quora or Reddit, you will find the suggestion that certain illicit drugs will keep you awake.
“You want the real answer? Methamphetamine. Don’t believe me? It’s okay, a lot of OTR truckers have been caught in possession of meth. And some use ADHD medications (also methamphetamine, and not permitted by the DOT even with a prescription) to stay awake. I’m not stereotyping all truckers, but it is very common and a well-kept secret of drivers especially owner operators who push the limits.”
Drivers, please don’t go there. Even during a state of emergency or this coronavirus pandemic, you are not exempt from requirements relating to commercial driver licenses, drugs and alcohol, hazardous materials, size, weight and registration requirements. Also, motor carriers who are currently subject to an out-of-service notice are not eligible for the relief.
We at CleanFleet are still drug testing, requirements for a post-accident drug test is still there, randoms are still being notified, pre-employment drug testing is still required. Don’t ruin your career by using drugs that could cause a positive drug test.
Sugar: When you walk into your favorite truck stop there are all kinds of energy and sugary products promising they provide the best way to stay awake while driving. But time and testing have shown that these quick fixes not only pose a health risk, they also make you even more tired than you were before, once the effects wear off. We have all been there, eating a large bag of M&Ms trying to stay alert behind the wheel, only to crash after the sugar high. There are other better tips than expecting sugar to keep you awake.
Good tips to keep long haul drivers awake while driving
Take a nap: Lack of sleep and driver fatigue is one of the largest causes of traffic accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found through its research that you are twice as likely to be involved in a wreck if you haven’t gotten appropriate sleep and you are not well rested.
Before you hit the road, take a 20-minute nap to give your body a boost for the long trip ahead. Studies show that sleeping for less than an hour gives your body the energy it needs to stay awake longer. Don’t resist your body’s natural urge to rest. Give in. Your body will thank you later.
Eat a healthy meal, especially after a nap: Eating healthy meal after your nap is important for your health, especially when you are on long trips. Healthy and fresh meals are providing you with all the necessary vitamins and minerals that refreshes the body. Healthy meals can help you stay awake while driving. Remember, the fat and sugar contained in most fast foods will increase your chances of becoming sleepy.
Pull over and do a bit of exercise: When and if you feel yourself getting tired, pull over. Get out of the cab and stretch your legs to get your blood flowing again. Use the time to inspect your truck once again in addition to boosting your energy.
Take advantage of this time to exercise in order to keep your body and your brain awake. When you are at rest stops, do some push-ups, sit-ups, jump rope, or even run a little bit. Doing this each time you stop will get your heart pumping and the oxygen flowing throughout your body, keeping you at your best. A physically active person gets better sleep at night, and is more productive during the day.
Stay hydrated with plenty of water: Contrary to popular belief, drinking plenty of water will reduce your chances of fatigue. According to WebMD, staying hydrated is one of the best ways to fight fatigue, so be sure to keep a full water bottle with you throughout your trip, and if you need a snack, pick fruits and vegetables—they are full of water and natural sugars that keep your mind alert and awake.
Though you may be making frequent breaks, dehydration causes fatigue. In addition to drinking water, try to avoid caffeine. It will wear off, leaving you even more tired and can cause you to stop for the restroom even more often than water.
Take vitamins with a healthy meal: Vitamins B and C are good for boosting energy. Just make sure to take them with a healthy meal, or your body won’t absorb them and you won’t receive their full benefits
Listen to an audio book: If music isn’t your thing, listen to an interesting audio book to keep your mind occupied. This could be educational, history, or even pump your adrenaline with a scary novel. Listening to someone else’s voice may also help you feel less lonely and that someone is in the cab with you.
Turn up the volume, but also mix in some quiet time: If you’re listening to music, turn up the volume. Listen to music that will get your energized and sing along with it. It’s just you, so no need to be embarrassed, let loose.
However, a steady stream of music, talk shows, or books on tape can become exhausting. The more your brain needs to think about what it’s hearing, the more it will get tired. That’s why it’s good to take regular breaks from the radio. Just be sure to turn it back on when the steady hum of the tires makes you sleepy.
Limit your caffeine or coffee: Coffee is not a replacement for a good sleep, but it can wake you up. Small amounts of coffee like one cup of coffee can help you stay awake while driving around five hours. It is the best pick-me-up drink.
But if you are a coffee lover, pay attention not to drink more than four cups a day. Truck drivers should avoid large doses of caffeine because it can harm them.
Open the window or keep it cool: If there is a nice, crisp breeze outside, crack open the window. The cold air will give your body a temporary boost and keep you awake a little longer. Otherwise, turn on the A/C. Keeping the truck a little bit cold, just enough to be slightly uncomfortable will make it hardwe to fall asleep, while warmer ones naturally make you drowsy. If you find yourself nodding-off, crank the AC or turn off the heat and let the cold wake you up.
This is only a temporarily solution, so pull over at your next rest stop and take that power-nap or exercise.
Take deep breaths: While listening to music or cranking the cool temperature in the cab, practice your deep breathing. This can help increase alertness, while raising blood oxygen levels. When this happens, it slows heart rates, lowers blood pressure and improves circulations, helping increase mental performance and boosting energy. Make sure to breathe by inhaling to the abdomen and not the chest.
Annoy yourself: This sounds strange, but this is a popular trick to keep your self awake. For example, pinch your ear lobes, poke your arm or leg, smack or tickle yourself, rub the roof of your mouth with your tongue, whatever it takes to chase away the sleepiness. Just do something that will irritate you out of your sleepy state.
Regardless, the best option is sleep. Remember, even if hauling loads that fall under the HOS waivers, the FMCSA order does say that when a driver has completed a delivery, he or she must receive 10 hours of off duty if delivering goods and eight hours if transporting passengers. Sleep is the key.
Stay safe on the roads and pull over and sleep before serious fatigue or sleepiness becomes serious. During emergencies or this coronavirus pandemic, you are saving lives by keeping America moving and store shelves stocked with food and important equipment. Do not drive unsafe. Stay smart, stay safe, and thank you for helping us through these anxious times.