Driver Fatigue on the Job

stressed female driver with location pointer - low battery icon

Whatever the source – lack of or poor-quality sleep, long hours of work or driving, shift work, stress, or sleep disorders – fatigue affects your ability to drive safely. Driver fatigue is a major workplace safety risk. The good news: a fatigue risk management system can help employers and workers to reduce the risks of driver fatigue.

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The more hours awake, the more likely you are to be fatigued. Use our animated image to share the message: Prevent fatigued driving.

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How to Choose the Right Fatigue Detection Technology for Your Workplace Infographic

These materials highlight different factors for employers to consider when selecting a fatigue detection technology.

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What do we know about driver fatigue?
  • As many as one in five fatal crashes in the general population involve driver fatigue.1
  • Companies use a fatigue risk management system to promote alertness among workers, identify fatigue-prone tasks, and lessen fatigue and its potential consequences.2
  • After 17 consecutive hours awake, impairment is equivalent to having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .05. After 24 hours awake, impairment is equivalent to a BAC of .10.3
  • A survey of the U.S. workforce found that 37% of workers got less than the recommended minimum of 7 hours of sleep.4
  • Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each day.5
  • Being awake for many consecutive hours
  • Not getting enough sleep over multiple days
  • Time of day: Your body has a sleep/wake cycle that tells you when to be alert and when it’s time to sleep. The urge to sleep is the most intense in the early morning hours.
  • Monotonous tasks or long periods of inactivity
  • Health factors such as sleep disorders or medications that cause drowsiness

Fatigue impairs your ability to safely perform tasks, including driving. When you’re driving, fatigue causes you to:

  • Nod off
  • React more slowly to changing road conditions, other drivers, or pedestrians
  • Make poor decisions
  • Drift from your lane
  • Experience “tunnel vision” (when you lose sense of what’s going on in the periphery)
  • Experience “microsleeps” (brief sleep episodes lasting from a fraction of a second up to 30 seconds)
  • Forget the last few miles you drove

While regulations set maximum numbers of driving and work hours for jobs such as driving a large truck, this approach doesn’t account for individual differences in sleep needs and health. Workers in most other jobs aren’t covered by regulations intended to reduce driver fatigue.

How can you prevent driver fatigue on the job?
  • Use a fatigue risk management system (FRMS) to promote alertness among workers, identify fatigue-prone tasks, and lessen fatigue and its potential consequences.2 Here’s what you need to know before starting an FRMS and how to manage fatigue using the fatigue-risk chain.
  • Set policies for maximum numbers of overtime hours and consecutive shifts.
  • Monitor compliance with federal hours-of-service regulations for drivers covered by them.
  • Ensure sufficient staffing levels across operations, factoring in the inevitable absences that occur due to vacation days, sickness, and turnover.
  • Implement a workplace sleep disorder screening/management program.
  • Provide worker training on sleep health and fatigue management.
  • Allow for rest breaks and napping during extended work shifts.
  • Give supervisors and workers fatigue-symptom checklists and encourage self-reporting.
  • Encourage peer monitoring of fatigue symptoms among co-workers.
  • During incident investigations, collect data on sleep history of workers involved, hours worked leading up to the incident, time of day, and hours of driving.
  • Review data from in-vehicle monitoring technologies to detect signs of possible fatigue episodes, such as lane departures.
  • Consider using physiological measurement (e.g., wearables such as instrumented wristbands and sunglasses) to monitor driver fatigue.
  • Train incident investigators to assess the role of fatigue in incidents and near-miss incidents.
  • Communicate the following to workers:
    • Get enough sleep (7-9 hours each day). If fatigue persists after adequate sleep, get screened for health problems that may be affecting your sleep, such as sleep apnea.
    • If you feel fatigued while driving: pull over, drink a cup of coffee, and take a 15-30 minute nap before continuing (research shows it works!).
  • Plan your off-duty activities to allow enough time for adequate sleep.
  • Get enough sleep (7-9 hours each day). If fatigue persists after adequate sleep, get screened for health problems that may be affecting your sleep, such as sleep apnea.
  • Create a sleeping environment that helps you sleep well: a dark, quiet, cool room with no electronics.
  • If you feel fatigued while driving: pull over, drink a cup of coffee, and take a 15-30 minute nap before continuing. The effects are only temporary – the only “cure” for fatigue is sleep.
  • Watch yourself and your peers for fatigue-related symptoms.
  • Report instances of fatigue in yourself and others to your direct supervisor, who can help to determine the safest course of action.
  • Speak honestly if you are questioned about a fatigue-related incident. Fatigue is a normal biological response – it is not a reflection of how well you do your job.

NIOSH web page: Work and Fatigue

NIOSH web page: CDC Feature: Driver Fatigue

NIOSH web page: Behind the Wheel at Work: Driver Fatigue

NIOSH web page: Long-Haul Truck Drivers

CDC web page: Drowsy driving

National Safety Council web page: Fatigue – You’re More Than Just Tired

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration web page: Drowsy Driving

North American Fatigue Management Program web page: A Comprehensive Approach for Managing Commercial Driver Fatigue

US research needs related to fatigue, sleep, and working hours among oil and gas extraction workers
American Journal of Industrial Medicine: 2021 / :1-17

International consensus statements on non-standard working time arrangements and occupational health and safety.
Industrial Health: April 2019 / 57(2):135-138

Working Time Society consensus statements: A multi-level approach to managing occupational sleep-related fatigue.
Industrial Health: March-April 2019 / 57(2):228-244

Working Time Society consensus statements: regulatory approaches to reduce risks associated with shift work – a global comparison.
Industrial Health: March-April 2019 / 57(2):245-263

Workplace interventions to promote sleep health and an alert, healthy workforce.
Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine: April 2019 / 15(4):649-657

Individual, business-related, and work environment factors associated with driving while tired among taxi drivers in two U.S. metropolitan areas.
Journal of Safety Research: September 2019 / 70:71-77

Fact Sheet: Oil and Gas Extraction Workers: How to Prevent Fatigued Driving at Work.
NIOSH Publication No. 2018-126 (March 2018)

Fact Sheet: Oil and Gas Extraction Employers: How to Prevent Fatigued Driving at Work.
NIOSH Publication No. 2018-125 (March 2018)

The influence of daily sleep patterns of commercial truck drivers on driving performance.
Accident Analysis & Prevention: June 2016 / 91:55-63

Quick Sleep Tips for Truck Drivers
NIOSH Publication No. 2014-150 (August 2014)

Active and passive fatigue in simulated driving: discriminating styles of workload regulation and their safety impacts.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied: December 2013 / 19(4):287-300

Short sleep duration among workers – United States, 2010.
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: April 27, 2012 / 61(16):281-285

Fatigue risk management: organizational factors at the regulatory and industry/company level.
Accident Analysis & Prevention: March 2011 / 43(2):573-590

Commercial drivers’ health: A naturalistic study of body mass index, fatigue, and involvement in safety-critical events.
Traffic Injury Prevention: December 2009 / 10(6):573-579

Overtime and Extended Work Shifts: Recent Findings on Illnesses, Injuries and Health Behaviors.
NIOSH Publication No. 2004-143 (May 2004)

The association between resident physician work hour regulations and physician safety and health
American Journal of Medicine: July 2020 / 133(7):e343-e354

Cross-sectional analysis of sleep-promoting and wake-promoting drug use on health, fatigue-related error, and near-crashes in police officers.
BMJ Open: September 2018 / 8(9):e022041

Implementing a sleep health education and sleep disorders screening program in fire departments: a comparison of methodology.
Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: June 2016 / 58(6):601-609

Hits and misses: screening commercial drivers for obstructive sleep apnea using guidelines recommended by a joint task force.
Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: September 2013 / 55(9):1035-1040

Does the rubber meet the road? Addressing sleep apnea in commercial truck drivers.
Sleep: November 2012 / 35(11):1443-1444

Body Mass Index is an effective measure for occupational screening of employees at high risk for moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea: implications for DOT commercial driver medical examinations.
Sleep: June 2012 / 35(Abstract Suppl):A138

Reliability of a single objective measure in assessing sleepiness.
Sleep: January 2012 / 35(1):149-158

Sleep disorders, health, and safety in police officers.
JAMA Journal of the American Medical Association: December 2011 / 306(23):2567-2578

Evaluation of the potential for translation to practice of a sleep disorders management program.
Final grantee report, R01-OH-009403: April 2011 / 1-59

Sleep disorders management, health and safety in police.
Final grantee report, R01-OH-008496: August 2009 / 1-40

Extended work shifts and the risk of motor vehicle crashes among interns.
The New England Journal of Medicine: January 2005 / 352(2):125-134

1Tefft BC [2014]. Prevalence of motor vehicle crashes involving drowsy drivers, United States, 2009-2013. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
2Lerman SE, et al. [2012]. Fatigue risk management in the workplace. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine 54: 231-259.
3Dawson D, Reid K [1997]. Fatigue, alcohol, and performance impairment. Nature Jul 17;388(6639):235.
4Shockey TM, Wheaton AG. Short Sleep Duration by Occupation Group — 29 States, 2013–2014. MMWR 2017;66:207–213.
5National Sleep Foundation. How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?