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Tired or Fatigued; What’s the Difference?

Posted: August 1, 2014 by Steve Rock

With the new hours-of-service (HOS) changes about to happen in the US, 60 drivers are urgently needed to help complete a sleep study by the end of June this year. (This is a paid study and qualified drivers need only participate over two duty cycles to earn $450. More details below.)

I recently interviewed lead scientist for the study Dr. Francine James who gave me a better understanding of how fatigue affects different types of drivers in different ways and what they need to be aware of to determine if fatigue is affecting them.

Tiredness affects us all and it’s one thing for our body clock to be temporarily out of sync after the recent change to daylight savings time, but it’s another to be fatigued behind the wheel; so how do we know when tiredness turns into fatigue?

Feeling tired at the end of a long shift is quite normal, especially if you’ve been hand-bombing freight all day. Factor in insufficient sleep and fatigue can set in after only a few days. If you’re becoming increasingly moody and irritable with people and generally feel bored with your job, chances are fatigue is already affecting you and could also affect your safety record.

Vehicles don’t collide by accident and statistics show that around nine out of ten collisions are due to human error, with distractions, risky behavior and fatigue being identified as major contributors. Fatigue is known to cause our recognition, decision and performance skills to deteriorate which in turn increases our chances of being involved in a collision.

To discover more about how fatigue affects us, The Institutes for Behavior Resources in Baltimore, MD has been conducting a Scheduling and Fatigue Recovery Project in collaboration with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Transport Canada. They have been collecting data since 2009 with the aim of better understanding how drivers manage their fatigue and the potential of various recovery periods to reduce fatigue-related risk and improve driver performance.

“Understanding how fatigue affects us is a major concern,” said Dr. James. “Education is paramount and there has to be an exchange of information within the family too, as everyone needs to fully understand the warning signs of fatigue and the effects that it can have on a person”.

For example, a highway driver returning home fatigued shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the spouse left behind taking care of the house may also be suffering from fatigue. In this situation both the driver and spouse would benefit from a little R&R before any outstanding chores or problems are discussed.

Local drivers may have the luxury of sleeping in their own bed at night, but add commuting time and dealing with home-life issues to an already long work day, and there is the potential for them to get less rest than a highway driver.

If you’re working for a less than reputable carrier, there is also the risk that you may be encouraged to push the envelope to get the job done. That could mean more time spent working, causing undue stress which will compound the fatigue that you may already be experiencing.

Drivers who work for a carrier that has strict policies and procedures often feel that they have less freedom but the opposite is in fact true. The restrictions that are imposed on them create a structured workday resulting in more free time where the driver can switch off and unwind properly before making sure they get sufficient sleep.

The Scheduling and Fatigue Recovery Project was originally planned to end in 2011 but due to a shortage of participants, has been extended until June this year. With the imminent hours of service change looming in the US, Dr. James is in urgent need of 60 more drivers to help complete the data collection process. She assures drivers that if they are fearful of an intrusion into their privacy they need not worry as all driver data will be de-identified making the results totally anonymous.

And now the best bit: to pocket $450, all you have to do is complete a questionnaire and some tests over two consecutive duty cycles and wear a wristwatch type device to record your sleep. To be eligible, you must have been driving with your present employer for at least six months, held a valid commercial license for at least a year, have a safe driving record with no history of logbook falsifications or drug and alcohol abuse.

If you’re interested in taking part in this worthwhile and very important study, contact Dr. Francine James or the study research assistant Heather Dark today, either by phone (toll free) or email, and they’ll get you started.

Dr. Francine James, Lead Scientist on 1888 784-9315 ext.107 or

Heather Dark, Study Research Assistant on 1 888 784-9315 ext.149 or


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