Driver Fatigue on the Job

Original article published by NIOSH

No amount of desire to drive or stay awake/alert or experience can help workers to escape the effects of fatigue on their driving performance.

Fatigue is broadly described as “a feeling of weariness, tiredness or lack of energy.” Whatever the source – inadequate or poor-quality sleep, long hours of work or driving, physical exertion, shift work, stress, or sleep disorders such as sleep apnea – fatigue affects the ability to drive safely. Employers and workers share the responsibility for managing fatigue and preventing fatigue-related motor vehicle crashes.

NIOSH conducts research and makes recommendations to help employers and workers prevent motor vehicle crashes caused by fatigued driving. Longer daily commutes, nonstandard shift work, less sleep, and lack of employer driving safety policies were associated with one or more risky driving-related outcomes such as drowsy driving, falling asleep, or experience a near miss crash event while driving. Maintaining good sleep habits is important to your health and safety, on and off the job.


  • 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


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

What Employers Can Do

  • 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, turnover, etc.
  • Provide worker training on sleep health and fatigue management.
  • Where staffing and work tasks allow it, allow for rest breaks and napping during extended work shifts.
  • Give supervisors and workers fatigue-symptom checklists and encourage self-reporting.
  • Encourage workers to monitor fatigue symptoms among co-workers.
  • Consider choosing the “right” fatigue monitoring and detection technology to identify potential sources of fatigue that might help in mitigating fatigue risk while driving.
  • During incident investigations, collect data on sleep history of workers involved, hours worked leading up to the incident, time of day, hours of driving, etc.

What Workers Can Do:

  • Get enough sleep (7-9 hours each day). If fatigue continue to persist after adequate sleep, speak to a healthcare professional to get help identifying the cause of fatigue.
  • Follow company policies and any applicable regulations that set maximum work hours or driving hours.
  • Plan your off-duty activities to allow enough time for rest and recovery.
  • 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 where safe, drink a cup of coffee, and take a 15-30 minute nap before continuing.
  • Watch yourself and your peers for fatigue-related symptoms. If possible, postpone travel until you are well-rested and recovered. If you are driving with co-workers, take turns driving.
  • Tell your supervisor if you are too tired to drive. If a co-worker appears too tired to drive, take your concerns to a supervisor.

The bottom line:

No amount of experience, motivation, or professionalism can overcome your body’s biological need to sleep. Employers and workers can take steps to prevent the chain of events that could lead to a fatigue-related crash. Employers, learn more about starting a fatigue risk management system.

McCraren Compliance can help you understand and comply with FMCSA, USDOT and ADOT and ensure your drivers and your vehicles operate safely and efficiently.

Call us Today at 888-758-4757 or email us at to schedule your free FMCSA Compliance Assessment.