Long-distance truckers are nearly three times likelier to crash when driving during the midnight-to-dawn hours and when minimal breaks are taken, according to recent Australian research.
According to study lead, Mark Stevenson, of the Monash University Accident Research Center in Melbourne, Australia, irregular schedules and incentives prompt truckers to the next load, according to Reuters Health. “If companies are setting schedules that require drivers to compete with their natural circadian rhythm, then that places them at a higher risk for a crash,” Stevenson told Reuters Health.
Stevenson and colleagues recruited a group of 530, nearly all male, truckers who experienced a recent non-fatal road crash that was confirmed by a police report. The group also located 517 drivers with no crash reports. These drivers comprised the comparison group, according to Reuters Health.
Truckers were recruited at rest stops located along heavily traveled truck routes in New South Wales and Western Australia. All participants answered questions concerning sleep, driving, and lifestyle and each interview lasted approximately 40 minutes. Participants wore a sleep monitor for one night and were, on average, in their mid-40s, Reuters Health wrote.
The study revealed that less experienced drivers had a three-fold increased likelihood of being involved in a non-fatal crash, those traveling with an empty load were more than twice as likely to be involved in a crash. Truckers driving for less than eight hours were about half as likely to crash when compared to truckers who were further along in their trip, according to Reuters Health.
Dr. Barbara Phillips, from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in Lexington, says the study confirms the links between increased crash risks and driving late at night and also adds details about other risks factors. For instance, trucks without anti-lock braking systems were associated with a 50 percent increased risk of crashing, while not having cruise control was tied to a 61 percent increased risk, Reuters Health reported. “That is news,” said Phillips, who has studied long-haul drivers but was not involved in the current study. “Some drivers prefer not to use cruise control because they think they have limited control of the vehicle,” said Stevenson. “But once cruise control is activated, it does assist the driver in maintaining a constant, safe speed,” he added.
The study also found that truckers who consumed caffeinated beverages experienced one-third the likelihood of crashing, compared to those who did not consume the beverages.
Phillips said, based on the research, “One, drivers should drink caffeine. Two, they can use cruise control if they have it. And, three, they need to take frequent breaks,” according to Reuters Heath. The study appears in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
The authors concluded that, “Scheduling of driving to avoid midnight-to-dawn driving and the use of more frequent rest breaks are likely to reduce the risk of heavy-vehicle nonfatal, non-severe crashes by 2–3 times,” according to the American Journal of Epidemiology.