Drowsy Driving Kills - But It Is Preventable

December 2022

In this article Catryna Jackson, EHS & Sustainability Specialist at Evotix, a leader in EHS software solutions, offers businesses helpful information and insights into how they can effectively manage both employees that are required to drive as part of their work activity, and the risks associated with drowsy driving in particular.

When workers are travelling between multiple locations and job sites, it can be challenging to manage health and safety effectively. Risks are harder to minimize beyond the relative safety of the workplace, and businesses have to trust that their employees are always acting safely and following relevant processes when on the road. 

But health and safety laws apply to work activities on the road in the same way as they do on a fixed site, so employers must figure out how to effectively manage risks to workers who drive a vehicle or ride a motorcycle, bicycle, or other wheeled vehicles as part of work activity. 

Driving for work can be one of the most dangerous activities workers will do, with hazards including roadwork, traffic, congestion, time pressures, fatigue and distraction. The statistics show that drowsy driving is a particularly significant risk.

Simply put, drowsy driving, also known as driver fatigue or tired driving, is the act of driving or operating a motor vehicle while tired and feeling fatigued or sleepy. 

The causes and symptoms of drowsy driving

Job stress or interrupted sleep (e.g. caring for children, pets, elderly parents, etc.)  are common reasons to be short on sleep. However, other factors can also contribute to drowsy driving such as medication or even untreated sleep disorders. 

Whatever the cause, the main effects of drowsy driving are the inability to focus, delayed reaction times, poor judgement of distances and speeds, and, of course, falling asleep at the wheel.

The risks and impact of drowsy driving

We are familiar with the hazards of drinking and driving or even texting and driving, but many people underestimate the dangers of drowsy driving. The statistics show that each year, drowsy driving accounts for about 100,000 crashes and 71,000 injuries in the US according to the National Safety Council (NSC), while the National Sleep Foundation claims that an estimated 6,400 people die annually in crashes involving drowsy driving.

A study by The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAA) also found that an estimated 16.5 percent of fatal crashes, 13.1 percent of crashes resulting in hospitalization, and 7 percent of all crashes in which a passenger vehicle is towed involve a drowsy driver. The analysis showed that about 57 percent of drowsy driving crashes involved the driver drifting into other lanes or off the road entirely.

What can employers do to manage the risks associated with drowsy driving?

1. Risk assessments

As part of your health and safety arrangements, execute risk assessments where necessary. Some areas to look at in your risk assessment are the journey, the driver or rider and the vehicle.

2. Consider requirements for lone workers

Don’t forget to consider the risks to lone workers and other vulnerable workers, in particular. A lone worker is ‘someone who works by themselves without close or direct supervision,’ including those who work away from a fixed base, such as delivery drivers or couriers. For example, this might include having an agreed schedule to touch base and check in, more regularly than you would a regular, static employee.

3. Implement reporting systems and transportation and logistics EHS software 

Implement a reporting system for workers to report all work-related road incidents and near misses. You should investigate incidents to identify any underlying causes, and to see if any controls or changes are needed. 

4. Manage risks from the length of journeys

Implement controls that align to the length of the journey. Controls will vary depending on whether the driver is undertaking long or short haul journeys, but generally they will all require regular breaks, for example. Different controls will be required if the journey is intermittent, involves routine or non-routine stops, involves driving and stopping when it is dark, or involves long working hours. To determine what controls are needed in each circumstance, consider not only the task that necessitates getting behind the wheel, but also the journey, the driver or rider, and the vehicle itself.  

5. Training vs. Learning

Ensure that the right training programs for employees that drive as part of their jobs are in place and completed. Providing up-to-date and relevant driver training will keep your employees aware of their unique risks on the road, but many training systems are clunky and unfriendly. Also, giving employees reams of documents to read and fill out is especially unhelpful for those that spent a significant amount of time on the road. 

Instead, identify on-the-job training that presents information in a way that is learned in a timely and efficient manner. For example, mobile apps are one of the most effective ways to give your staff the health and safety instructions and resources they need, wherever they are.