driver safety

It typically begins with a simple yawn. Next thing you know, your eyes feel heavy. You find yourself turning up the radio or opening a window. Then you realize you forgot the last few miles you drove and wonder how you traveled so far without realizing it.

What’s happening? It’s fatigue, and it’s one of the most common and dangerous safety risks for professional drivers. About 65% of truck drivers say they feel fatigued while driving, according to the American Transportation Research Institute. What’s worse, fatigue plays a role in 31% of all deadly truck crashes, says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The good news is that staying more alert while driving is well within your control. Try one or more of these seven smart strategies to beat fatigue behind the wheel. You may just save a life!

1. Take your breaks. Always follow Hours of Service (HOS) regulations and take a minimum of 30-minute breaks every 8 hours. Try to find your own rhythm. For example, you may be more alert if you take shorter breaks every two-to-three hours instead of “saving” your break for that eighth hour on the road.

2. Get your sleep. Aim to sleep for seven to eight hours every night. If possible, avoid or limit driving mid-afternoon (between 2 – 4 p.m.) or overnight (between midnight – 6 a.m.), times when the body is naturally drowsy.

3. Watch what you eat and drink. Skip fast food, vending machines, and other types of food that lack nutrition. Instead, pack healthier meals. Choose fruits, vegetables, nuts or string cheese for snacks. Don’t eat a heavy meal right before bed. But don’t go to bed hungry, either. Avoid sodas and other sugary drinks. Choose water instead so you can stay hydrated.

4. Stay active and fit. While you can’t exercise while driving, you can add some physical activity during your breaks and during your off time. Take a brisk walk. Do some stretching exercises. Aim for 20 minutes of physical activity at least three days a week. Being physically fit lowers your chances of fatigue.

5. Check your medicines. Sleeping pills, allergy medications and cold medications can make you drowsy. Avoid or limit them whenever possible. Always ensure you discuss any medications and their side effects with your doctor.

6. Avoid the traps. Many drivers think that they can fight fatigue by smoking, turning up the radio, or opening a window. Those activities may refresh you for a few seconds, but they won’t keep you alert for the long haul. If tired, do the right thing, pull to a safe area, and take a break!

7. Don’t tough it out. If you start yawning, making sudden lane changes or start to grow irritable, it’s a good bet you’re tired. Find a safe, legal place to park, such as a truck stop or well-lit rest area, and take a break.

In trucking, uptime is critical, and no one wants to experience unscheduled maintenance, especially if it occurs while a driver is on the road. Unfortunately, mechanical failures happen, and when they do, keeping drivers and maintenance technicians providing emergency roadside services safe is the top priority.

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Fleets are using technology to improve truck driver safety and shape driver habits. Onboard safety technology improves safety and can increase efficiency, reduce liability and cut costs – but fleets need to gain driver acceptance of any new solutions.

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The use of advanced driver assistance systems, also called ADAS, in commercial vehicles continues to increase as fleets and regulatory agencies work to improve safety, control costs and limit liability. ADAS applications include adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detection and forward-collision warning systems. The technology can improve driver performance, reduce fatigue and enable customized coaching.

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Wheel-end components are essential to safety, and properly maintaining and inspecting wheel ends, which include the wheels, rims, hubs and tires on a commercial motor vehicle, is essential for over-the-road performance.

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More than 40% of truck drivers now live in a state that has legalized the use of marijuana, according to an American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) report. However, federal law still prohibits the use of marijuana by CMV drivers who engage in interstate travel.

That means when it comes to the use of cannabis products, professional drivers must say no.

Unfortunately, not everyone is getting the message. The number of positive tests for recreational marijuana among truck drivers increased by 31% over the past year. That’s according to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol (D&A) Clearinghouse pulled by Fleet Owner in June.

Clearing the confusion

Make no mistake, marijuana is a serious safety threat. Cannabis products significantly impair a truck driver’s judgment, motor coordination and reaction time. Studies have found a direct relationship between the blood concentration of THC (the primary psychoactive component of marijuana) and impaired driving.

As a result, truck drivers must avoid all types of marijuana and CBD products for recreational or medical reasons.

Making roads safer

The FMCSA’s D&A Clearinghouse is designed to improve public safety on the roadway by helping to ensure any CDL drivers that violate the FMCSA D&A policy are kept off the road. The Clearinghouse is a secure online database that provides real-time, historical data of any FMCSA D&A policy violations.

Companies that employ CDL truck drivers must query the database at the time of employment and at least once every 12 months to see whether a driver’s status has changed. Drivers who test positive for alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines or other prohibited controlled substances without a proper medical prescription must complete the FMCSA’s Return-to-Duty process before returning to any safety-sensitive job functions. The process includes meeting with a Department of Transportation-approved substance abuse professional (SAP) and undergoing Return-to-Duty testing and subsequent follow-up drug tests as determined by the SAP.

CDL drivers who want to view their records must register and create an account with the Clearinghouse using the link below. Drivers must also use the Clearinghouse to give employers additional electronic consent to view any records found. Refusal to provide consent will prohibit the driver from performing any safety-sensitive functions. Employers, testing facilities and SAPs are required to report any FMCSA D&A policy violations to the FMCSA Clearinghouse. Drivers will receive notification by mail or email every time their record is modified.

To register, visit clearinghouse.fmsca.dot.gov/register. You’ll need your CDL number, birthdate, full name and Social Security number.

Driver shortage issues have diminished as capacity has fluctuated. However, the fundamentals behind the driver shortage have not disappeared, and it remains a top industry concern. The right equipment and technology can appeal to drivers and give fleets a competitive advantage when building and retaining their pool of drivers.

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Thorough pre- and post-trip inspections help drivers and carriers meet federal safety standards and improve safety — and the results of roadside inspections can hurt or help carriers' safety scores depending on what law enforcement finds.

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Do you yawn often or feel drowsy when driving during daylight hours? Do you snore while sleeping? Do you have frequent headaches? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.

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Class is in, and it’s not just students who need a back-to-school refresher. So do professional drivers who must adapt to new routines to keep themselves, their cargo and school children safe on the roads.

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The brake system on a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) must perform constantly and under all conditions. While both air disc brakes and S-cam drum brakes can get the job done, many manufacturers have made air disc brakes standard and the adoption rate for air disc brakes is increasing.

“The biggest difference between air disc brakes and S-cam drum brakes is disc brakes have a shorter stopping distance and you eliminate several components, so there are less maintenance items on air disc brakes,” said Chris Hough, vice president of maintenance at Penske Truck Leasing.

For example, air disc brakes do not need a slack adjuster, but S-cam brakes do. Kerri Wirachowsky, director of inspection programs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), said brakes out of adjustment is the number one violation drivers receive.

“Generally, when a vehicle is put out of service for brakes being out of adjustment, it is because the automatic slack adjuster did not adjust correctly. It could be because it was not maintained or because it failed,” Hough said.

Additionally, air disc brakes don’t experience brake fade, or result in stopping power, after repeated use. At higher speeds, disc brakes have a better response at higher temperatures.

Initially, the adoption of air disc brakes was slower because they were more expensive and roadside service didn’t always have parts, Wirachowsky said. “As more and more get introduced into the market, the more the price comes down and the more familiar technicians get with them and can do roadside repair. I think over the course of time, we’re going to see more go that way,” Wirachowsky said.

Penske Truck Leasing made air disc brakes standard on tractors within its rental fleet in 2017, and Hough expects to see increased adoption on trailers as well. “Over time, as technology continues to improve and air disc brakes become more economical, which they are, we’ll probably see the industry transition to air disc brakes on trailers,” Hough said.

Brake Maintenance

When maintained and installed correctly, both brake types meet required safety standards, but maintenance is critical for all systems. Disc brakes are sometimes erroneously characterized as being maintenance free and they are not, and brake systems, whether they are disc brakes or drum brakes, require attention.

Hough said brakes must be checked at every preventive maintenance inspection and drivers should regularly check brakes during pre- and post-trip inspections. Plus, brakes need to be lubricated or greased at set intervals and slack adjusters on S-cam drum brakes have to be tested.

“During a PM inspection, we measure the applied brake stroke. With the foot pedal applied, we measure the total distance the slack adjuster is traveling so we know it is working correctly,” Hough said. “They’re dependable, but from time to time, one will fail.”

Hoses and tubing have been an important focus area for CVSA inspectors for several years because brake hose chafing is another common violation. “You could have belly hoses on the trailer that are rubbing or the gladhand hoses are too long and they rub on the catwalk,” Wirachowsky said. “That is what we look for, and drivers should be looking for that during their inspection.”

If a hose rubs up against something until it punctures the liner of the hose, it will leak air. “If it is leaking air, the brakes won’t work correctly,” Hough said, adding that some hoses are difficult for drivers to inspect during pre- and post-trip inspections. “That is why it is so important during a PM inspection to check for any type of chafing.”

Overall Safety

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA’s) latest Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts report, the brake system was the third most cited vehicle-related factor in fatal commercial motor vehicle and passenger vehicle crashes, highlighting the critical safety role brakes play in transportation.

Additionally, brake-related violations accounted for eight out of the top 20 vehicle violations in 2022, according to FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System. Plus, brake-related violations make up the largest percentage of all out-of-service violations cited during roadside inspections, CVSA reported.

Additional Information

CVSA has several brake sources available:

    Speeding alone has caused more than one-quarter of all deaths from motor vehicle accidents since 2008, according to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

    Prepare for the presence of law enforcement. Follow these six best practices and take a giant step toward avoiding warnings, citations or accidents on the road every week of the year.

    1. Drive under the posted speed limit. Excessive speed is the most frequent driver-related crash factor in CMVs and passenger cars, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

    2. Keep your eyes on the road. Don’t use a cell phone while driving; avoid distractions like eating or changing radio stations. Distracted driving claimed 3,522 lives in 2021, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).

    3. Wear your seatbelt. It’s the law in all 50 states. Seatbelts save nearly 15,000 lives each year on average, says NHTSA.

    4. Avoid alcohol or drugs. Drunk driving alone caused 13,384 deaths in 2021, says NHTSA.

    5. Check your aggression. Law enforcement officers will look for tailgating, improper lane changes, improper passing and other aggressive driving behaviors. And remember to always drive defensively.

    6. Follow the rules of the road. Watch for work zone speed limits, stop signs and stoplights, pedestrian crossings and other traffic control devices, and always obey them.

    Professional drivers, get ready to share the road. Nearly 85% of Americans expect to travel this summer, according to a 2023 travel survey from The Vacationer. And 100 million people plan to take a road trip of 250 miles or more.

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    Federal law has required professional truck drivers to wear seat belts since 1970, and a record 86% of professional drivers use safety belts, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported. According to FMCSA, safety belt use remains one of the cheapest, easiest and most important means to protect commercial motor vehicle drivers.

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    You may know the saying, “April showers bring May flowers”, but these same wet conditions also create a variety of dangerous road hazards for professional drivers. In fact, flooding is now ranked as the second deadliest weather hazard in the U.S. each year, according to the National Weather Service. (Excessive heat is currently listed as the Number 1 deadliest U.S. weather hazard).

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    Penske’s free app for drivers, Penske Driver™, gives them tools to remain compliant with electronic logging device (ELD) mandates and complete their daily tasks, including submitting fuel receipts, requesting roadside assistance and more.

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    You climb in and out of your cab constantly. You may even be required to climb into the trailer or on top of a flatbed to secure the load you are transporting. This is done so often, that you probably don’t think of the risk involved. But move too fast or carelessly, and you could end up out of service with a serious injury.

    Trips, slips, and falls cause around 100,000 work-related injuries a year for professional drivers. They also keep workers off the job for an average of 24 days, according to National Safety Council data. Wintertime is an especially dangerous time for falls due to weather hazards like snow, sleet and ice that impact the central and northern regions of the U.S.

    You can avoid trips, slips, and falls by following a few basic steps:

    1. Use the three points of contact rule. The three points of contact rule will give you the most stability every time you enter and exit your truck, reducing your risk of a slip, trip or fall. Three points means that you should have two hands and one foot — or two feet and one hand — in contact with your truck at all times. When you climb up or down, grab onto fixed items, such as door handles, the door frame, steps or your steering wheel. Don’t rely on tires or wheel hubs to climb out.

    2. Don’t climb and carry. Avoid the temptation to hold anything — a coffee cup, smartphone or logbook — in your free hand when you enter and exit the truck. Doing so will prevent you from effectively using the Three Points of Contact Rule. Always place your items into the cab before attempting to enter your truck.

    3. Move slowly and deliberately. While jumping out of your cab may save time, you must never do it. Jumping puts extra strain on your back and joints, which can cause you pain and create injuries over the long term. Jumping also puts you at risk for ankle, shoulder and knee injuries that may occur if you fall awkwardly.

    4. Look before you leave the cab. Make sure your vehicle’s handles and steps are clear of ice, snow and other hazards. Park in well-lit areas and on level surfaces so you can climb out of your truck safely. Look for objects blocking your path and move them out of the way.

    5. Wear proper footwear. Choose non-slip footwear. Waterproof work boots with textured treads are always a good option.

    6. Pay attention. Focus on climbing up and down the stairs only. Don’t look at your phone or other objects. Avoid distractions.

    What do you get when you add up the early sunsets of autumn with the end of Daylight Saving time? A lot more hours of driving in the dark.

    Nighttime driving creates many additional hazards for professional truck drivers. While only 25% of all driving in the U.S. happens at night, half of all fatal crashes occur after dark, says the National Safety Council (NSC).

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