Driver Fatigue Prevention and Owner Operator Trucking

An investigative study conducted by the FMCSA to determine the causes of crashes involving commercial motor vehicles identified driver fatigue as an important factor.  Driver fatigue does not only affect your driving performance but also puts you and everyone else at risk.  In order to prevent driver fatigue, it is important to learn what it is, how to measure it and the impact it has on your productivity as an owner operator trucker.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), around 20 percent of fatal motor vehicles crashes are due to driver fatigue.  Fatigue-related accidents are more severe than other accidents because there is little or no braking action to avoid them.  So what exactly is driver fatigue and how can we prevent it?

Drive Fatigue Definition and the Owner Operator Trucking world

owner operator trucking

Owner operator trucking Associations/Organizations have had a hard time coming to an agreement on the definition of driver fatigue.  Driver fatigue is a controversial topic because it also has to do with hours of service.  Here are a couple definitions some of these organizations have been using.

The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), adheres to the Norwegian Center for Transport Research driver fatigue definition: “Fatigue is a suboptimal psychophysiological condition caused by exertion. The fatigue condition results in changes in strategies or resource use such that original levels of mental processing or physical activity are maintained or reduced.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration defines driver fatigue as “A time-correlated deterioration in driving performance, physiological state of arousal, and subjective feelings of sleepiness or tiredness.”

Driver Fatigue and Performance

There was scientific research in which they compared the decrease in performance caused by fatigue to alcohol intoxication.  The test consisted of keeping 40 people awake for 28 hours, while the other group was required to consume 15g of alcohol every thirty minutes until their rise in blood concentration reached 0.10%.  They came to the conclusion that being awake for 17 hours straight has the same effect on performance as having a blood alcohol level of 0.5%.  

There is a direct relationship on your performance as a professional truck driver related to the number of hours you spend awake.  


Sleep deprived drivers tend to experience what is commonly known as microsleep.  Microsleep happens when drivers reach the first level of sleep for a few seconds even when their eyes are fully open.  Just as when a person is asleep, microsleep causes loss of consciousness and awareness of one’s surroundings.  Signs of microsleep are frequent blinking, head dropping or body jerking and not being able to recall the last minute.  Suffering from fatigue at this level is a bad sign of sleep deprivation.

Watch out for other signs of fatigue like impatience, missing a turn, difficulty concentrating and yawning frequently.

The FMCSA aims at decreasing the number or severity of commercial truck and bus-related crashes.  They do that by running driver and commercial vehicle inspections and enforcing stronger sanctions against truckers or owner operator truck drivers who do not comply with rules and regulations.  The government may have all kinds of rules and guidelines to help reduce the number of accidents, but in reality, it is your responsibility as an owner operator to manage driver fatigue. At the end of the day, it is your safety at play.

Owner Operator Driver Fatigue Prevention

Owner Operator Truck Driver - Status Transportation

Staying compliant with HOS regulations and sleeping when you are supposed to be resting should help you to manage driver fatigue.  Many drivers suffer from sleep deprivation because of health-related issues.  A very large percentage of owner operator truckers suffer from sleep apnea.  If you believe this might be your case, talk to your doctor about it, as an owner operator your health has a direct correlation with your performance as a driver.  So take care of yourself.

Time management is also a very effective tool in preventing driver fatigue.  Plan your routes factoring in sleep time and adjust accordingly.  Owner operator jobs require your full concentration.  As an owner operator truck driver, your ability to perform will determine your level of success.  Be safe while driving and be wary of others sharing the road.

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