Lauren Domnick's picture

Mar 2, 2017

By:

Lauren Domnick

Director of Analytics & Modeling

Many of the nation’s estimated 3.5 million commercial truck drivers need to take a class on sleep. Not on how to stay awake while driving but how to sleep well before driving.

Seriously.

This is National Sleep Awareness Week, and there likely isn’t any other group of people to whom sleep awareness is a more cogent and acute issue than truck drivers. Their lives quite literally depend on their staying not only awake, but engaged cognitively for many hours a day. And often in long, uninterrupted periods behind the wheel. And they have to do that on a daily basis. 

Yet the traditional emphasis on staying awake to stay alive misses the key point: that a driver’s ability to stay awake and fully engaged behind the wheel depends most on his or her ability to sleep well enough, long enough, and productively enough.

It seems like common sense, but it’s not. The results of one large trucking company’s sleep training program for drivers proved that. That training program analyzed 560 of that company’s drivers who completed a survey after attending a 60- or 90-minute sleep management workshop. As reported in a case study by Omnitracs, a staggering 98 percent of those drivers said the training course will help them better cope with shift-work issues they deal with regularly as drivers. Another 96 percent said the sleep workshop will make them more accommodating of their partner’s sleep needs and more understanding of the sleep needs of their children.

Furthermore, 91 percent said that what they learned about sleep — and what they will incorporate into their own lives and sleep patterns — will improve their overall lifestyle and their fitness for duty. More on-point, 80 percent said what they learned about getting the most of their sleep opportunities will increase their awareness levels while driving. And 77 percent said they are certain that what they learned will improve the quality of their sleep.

Not Just Theory

Positive data points, for sure, but it’s one thing for drivers to respond so strongly to a survey immediately after attending one of these sleep workshops. It’s quite another for them to actually implement smart changes to their sleeping habits then maintain those habits over time. After all, most people leave training classes with good intentions but struggle with implementation.

Yet, early results in actual driver safety performance among those drivers who attended the sleep workshops are quite encouraging. 

In the six-month period after the trucking company studied by Omnitracs conducted its sleep awareness workshops, all of the accidents that its trucks were involved in cost a total $10.3 million. Of that only $1.5 million was attributable to trucks driven by drivers who attended one of the sleep awareness workshops. 

And if you think only a few of the company’s drivers actually attended those workshops, you’re wrong. Forty-four percent of the trucking company’s drivers — 1,651 to be precise — attended the workshops. So that 44 percent was responsible for only 14 percent of the dollar damages chalked up in the six months after the workshops. 

More startling, drivers who did NOT attend one of the sleep awareness workshops incurred much greater value damage when they experienced “loss of control” accidents (roll-overs, sideswipes, jack-knifes, left-the-highways) — 7.2 times higher than drivers who had attended one of the workshops and then experienced a loss-of-control accident in the following six months. 

Similarly, workshop non-attendees had a loss-of-control accident rate twice as high as those drivers who did attend one of the sleep awareness workshops. And drivers who did not attend a workshop had five times as many “left highway” accidents as their fellow drivers who did attend a workshop. Only one workshop attendee had a roll-over accident; 14 non-attendees experienced roll-overs during the six-months after the workshops.

Lessons Learned

Clearly, drivers who are made more aware of the importance of getting good sleep and instructed on how to get the most out of their sleeping opportunities have many fewer accidents than those who do not receive such training. And even when the trained drivers do have accidents, they tend to be far less serious and less costly than those who don’t receive the training.

Now, we’d love to be able to say that reason non-attendees had more accidents is that the drivers involved were sleep deprived. That would prove our point. But, to be honest, the data doesn’t quite prove that. Still, the implications are strong: drivers who are well informed about and take the necessary steps to get good and ample sleep are far better performers in terms of safe operations.  And though the study didn’t attempt to measure their economic performance, the inference is that if they are safer drivers, they likely are more punctual, efficient and maybe even happier drivers, too.

Indeed, follow up study shows that drivers who attended one of the sleep awareness workshops were 30 percent less likely to leave the company, and almost seven times less likely to experience a service failure (like arriving late at a customer’s loading dock).

Of course, the firm studied by Omnitracs is a large one, with more than 3,000 drivers.  That kind of scale makes it easier to provide “extras” like sleep awareness workshops to the workforce — including dispatchers and managers, whose driver scheduling practices are more likely to be altered in positive ways once they’re made aware of how drivers can perform better if they get better sleep. But what about mid-size and smaller trucking concerns? Providing basic and required driver training is difficult enough. How can they get their drivers to attend additional training, even valuable training like sleep awareness courses?

It’s not easy. And it will require making such training a point of intense corporate emphasis. And it likely will require creativity. Maybe one workshop can be done live, and video-taped so that other drivers who could not attend can watch later on their computers or mobile devices. There are fatigue management programs available for do-it-youselfers, and outsourced training by for-hire training companies. Omnitracs offers this training as part of our predictive models and it not only delivers training content, but also advises who is most at-risk, allowing fleets to focus on the greatest need while realizing the greatest benefit.

Whatever path a company chooses to follow to get sleep awareness training out to its drivers, dispatchers and managers, such training can have short- and long-term positive impacts on a trucking company’s costs, accident rates, insurance costs, employee satisfaction scores and driver retention rates. Given all that, the only real question is not whether you should implement such training, but how soon can you implement it?
    


 

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