Starting a trucking career as an owner/operator is an exciting thing. Something about being behind the wheel of a big rig and hitting the road for a long-haul route appeals to many people. But in addition to enjoying the prospect of new adventures, consider how you’re going to stay safe during the long hours of solo driving.
It’s an unfortunate fact that truck driving can be dangerous. In 2016, over 100,000 documented traffic accidents involved large trucks, and around 4,000 of these accidents resulted in a fatality. That’s why you must understand the risk factors that can make an accident on the road more likely.
One of the biggest causes of crashes is driver fatigue. Fatigue causes mental impairment and reduced reaction time, which can be fatal on the road. In extreme cases, fatigue can also lead to drivers falling asleep at the wheel, which significantly increases the risk of fatal crashes. Fatigue is all too common for long-haul truckers, but you can help yourself to combat it with these six tips.
1. Stop for Regular Exercise Breaks
Sitting in the cab of your truck for long stretches of time can contribute to overall fatigue. Sitting still can drop your body temperature, which your body sees as a sleep trigger. Stopping regularly to revive your body with a little exercise is a great way to stave off fatigue.
A short walk or some simple stretches every so often is enough to shake off fatigue. This burst of exercise will raise your temperature, get your blood pumping a bit faster, and give you a refreshing rush of energy.
2. Keep Your Cab the Right Temperature
Another thing that can cause fatigue, drowsiness, and falling asleep at the wheel is keeping your cab at the wrong temperature. Too cold, and your body will trigger the sleep response that helps you fall asleep at bedtime. Too warm, and your body can become sluggish and drowsy.
You need to find the Goldilocks zone — not too hot, not too cold — that will keep you alert. This temperature will vary from person to person, and you may need to spend some time figuring out the best cab temperature for your body. If you feel fatigue creeping in, try dropping or raising the temperature and see if doing so revives you.
3. Stay Well-Hydrated
Another common cause of fatigue is dehydration. It can cause your blood pressure to decrease, which doesn’t allow enough oxygen-rich blood to reach your brain. Lack of adequate blood flow can cause you to feel sleepy and fatigued.
The best way to stay hydrated is to drink plenty of water and avoid sugary and caffeinated beverages as much as possible. If you suspect that you are dehydrated, a sports drink that contains electrolytes can help your body quickly get back to a healthy level of hydration.
4. Avoid Eating Too Many Carbs
Carbohydrates are often a staple of trucker foods. At any truck stop, you’ll find a wide variety of carbohydrate-rich foods, such as sandwiches, fries, and pizza. However, these foods can increase fatigue, particularly if you eat too much of them. Carbohydrates convert to glucose once they’re digested, but once the glucose is burned up, you’ll get a post-carb crash that can make you incredibly tired.
If you do eat carbs, make sure that they are complex carbohydrates such as whole-meal bread. Complex carbs break down more slowly than simple carbs, such as white bread and pizza dough. This delay helps to prevent the overwhelming crash and keeps your energy levels higher for longer.
5. Pump Up the Music
If you feel fatigue creep in when you’re on the road, pump up some lively and energetic music. Music has been shown to increase energy levels and combat fatigue by activating the sympathetic nervous system. Biologically, doing this makes your body ready for action and sharpens your mental response to the world around you.
6. Get Enough Sleep
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s surprising how many people are going through life without getting enough sleep at night. Sleep-deprivation may not be so noticeable after one or two nights, but over time this sleep deficit can take a real toll on your health and levels of fatigue.
If you’ve had a poor night’s sleep or have put in long hours of night driving, catch up on rest when you have the opportunity. A short nap in your truck’s cab can help make up for the lost hours and prevent dangerous fatigue from becoming overwhelming. For this reason, make sure that the rig you buy has a comfortable sleeping area that can be kept dark if you sleep during the day.
Try these tips on your next trip to keep yourself, your truck, and those around you safe.