Sleep deprivation costs businesses eight days’ productivity per employee and it’s on the rise.

Fatigue is a factor in 20% of all road collisions and 25% of all serious and fatal crashes according to GEM Motoring Assist. Research from the Royal Society for Public Health suggests that in general drivers – not just fleet drivers – are missing out on one full night’s sleep every week.

For those really pushing their limits the consequences can be dire. After 17 hours without sleep, alertness is on a par with having 0.05% blood alcohol, skirting the legal limit for drink driving. After 24 hours of no sleep, that doubles to 0.1% which would push drivers well over the limit had they actually been drinking.

Fleet managers are well aware of the potential impacts of drink-driving. Bus company Stagecoach has fitted alcolocks to its vehicles to prevent its drivers working with any alcohol in their system at all.

To date no such solution exists for tiredness, even though the impacts are on a par with driving under the influence. Instead, fleet managers have had to rely on driver self-policing or tachographs that impose the same driving period on everyone.

Of course, with targets to meet and a competitive job market, there is a temptation to push on even when tiredness is creeping in.

Creating conditions for optimal health

Long periods spent behind the wheel have been notorious for promoting a variety of poor health conditions. Obesity and heart disease due to unhealthy diets and lack of exercise are common. Even if the actual job of driving doesn’t directly impact a driver’s alertness these two conditions can affect even normal sleep.

The RAC says that 80% of fleet businesses would benefit from greater awareness of obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome (OSAS). The most common type of sleep apnoea, it affects 10% of the driving population with middle aged men most at risk. A driver with OSAS is nine times more likely to have an accident.

The condition – if drivers are even aware of it – tends to go underreported in fleets. This is largely due to worries about job security but OSAS isn’t a condition that should cost a fleet driver their job. The OSA Partnership Group launched a campaign in January 2016 for professional drivers to be fast-tracked for treatment. It was estimated they would be back driving professionally within four weeks.

Beyond official help from health professionals, fleet managers can encourage their drivers to improve their quality of sleep by incentivising good health. Promoting a healthy diet through vouchers for fresh food outlets or building in job perks such as gym membership could nudge drivers towards not just better sleep, but a better quality of life overall.

Health monitoring

Some companies are trialling devices to monitor driver alertness and stress levels as well as sleep quality. A wristband called Ready to Perform should be able to predict when the driver is likely to fall asleep at the wheel.

Other data shows which points in the journey cause a driver most stress so they can be avoided in the future. There is hope that this might give drivers more personalised profiles that would help to create their own safe driving ranges.

Research suggests drivers should take a 15 minute break, minimum, after every two hours of driving or 100 miles. With a greater awareness of route challenges and opportunities for breaks, fleet managers should be able to build in healthy driving habits while also meeting transportation targets.

Healthy drivers are effective drivers and any form of monitoring should be seen to be adding to the quality of their working lives. It needs to help them improve their ability to do their job not deprive them of it. Being able to tailor the level of driving or intensity to individual drivers should help fleet managers optimise their fleet routes and effectiveness.

The benefits of driver sleep management

Optimise routes – altering routes to improve attention or maximise the effectiveness of driving breaks.

Improve insurance rates – reducing overall accident rates both current and historic will positively impact insurance costs.

Remove hidden costs – driver downtime, either from accidents or sleep-related illnesses such as stress; vehicle downtime for repairs as a result of accident.

Sleep deprivation is a real issue which is only going to get worse if the challenge goes untackled. Many fleets are already struggling to attract drivers. Part of that is down to the perceived lifestyle problems.

Drivers need to feel they are supported, not under surveillance, when it comes to monitoring their performance and be rewarded for positive lifestyle choices that ultimately benefit both them and their employer.

Driver wellbeing is key to your success

References

GEM issues warning over driver fatigue

RAC research highlights need for more awareness of sleep disorder

Smart wristband tracks vital signs to keep truckers moving

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