Tool Kit

Driver Fatigue

Driving while fatigued is more than just feeling a little tired when you’re behind the wheel. Fatigue is a type of impairment that results in reduced mental and/or physical performance. It’s a far-reaching safety risk that needs to be addressed in your road safety plan.


Who’s at risk?

Everyone feels fatigued at some point and driving can make things worse. A warm vehicle and the soothing motion of the drive can make you drowsy and increase your crash risks. Some drivers are behind the wheel for long periods of time and can become bored and inattentive. Others who drive for even short periods of time in high-stress situations can find themselves exhausted – and at greater risk of making costly mistakes.

Fatigue can affect all drivers, but there are several groups that are at greater risk:

  • Workers on night or rotating shifts
  • Long-haul commercial vehicle drivers
  • People taking prescribed and over-the-counter medications
  • Young males (especially under age 26)
  • People with sleep disorders
  • People under the influence of alcohol or marijuana

Impacts, causes, and warning signs

When an employee is physically or mentally fatigued (or both), it affects their ability to safely perform their driving duties. Studies show fatigue is a casual or contributing factor in about 20% of crashes. It is a factor in nearly as many crashes as distractions, speed, and drug and alcohol impairment. Not getting enough quality sleep, long periods of being awake and lifestyle choices are the most common causes.

How fatigue impacts drivers

Physical fatigue comes from activities that exhaust your muscles. You may not be able to respond as fast as you usually can when driving. Mental fatigue is even worse because you are less capable of performing key driving tasks.

Reacting a fraction of a second faster or slower can be the difference between a near miss and serious, costly crash.

Drivers who are mentally and/or physically fatigued are:

  • More likely to take risks
  • More likely to forget or ignore normal checks or procedures
  • Less able to absorb critical driving information and respond to it
  • Less able to solve problems
  • Less able to decide on the best actions to take to address a hazard, and execute the necessary responses
  • Less able to judge distance, speed, and time

Main causes of fatigue

Not getting enough good quality sleep, being awake for long periods, and working long shifts often generate fatigue. How factors at work and in everyday life can lead to driver fatigue is explained below.

Inadequate sleep
Work tasks, environment, and schedule
Being awake for long hours
Medications and medical conditions
Stress
Lifestyle choices

Warning signs of fatigue

Fatigue has many common symptoms but it can be difficult for drivers to notice them. Watch out for:

  • Feeling sleepy, drowsy, or exhausted
  • Yawning
  • Sore, heavy, droopy, or blood-shot eyes
  • Slower than normal reflexes and reaction times
  • Impatience or irritability
  • Aching, stiff, or sore muscles, or cramps
  • Lack of motivation
  • Indecisiveness
  • Daydreaming, decreased ability to focus or concentrate

What employers can do

Your employees are a vital asset. Fatigued drivers put themselves, their passengers, other road users, and their employers at risk. You’re legally responsible for the safety of your employees when they are driving or riding in a work vehicle. Your organization can prevent fatigue-related crashes by taking basic safety steps.

Employer legal obligations

As an employer you’re legally responsible for ensuring your employees are safe when they drive for work regardless of how much driving they do and whether they’re using a company-owned or personal vehicle. (Note: their commute between home and work is not considered driving for work.) Review your legal obligations to understand the laws that apply to you. You can also review your responsibilities when employees drive their own vehicle.

Employers, supervisors and employees should be familiar with Occupational Health and Safety Regulation Part 4.19 and 4.20. They explain specific things each party must do to minimize the likelihood that an employee drives if they’re impaired by fatigue or any other means.

Remember that employees have the right to refuse unsafe work. In the case of impairment, workers have a more specific responsibility not do work (or drive) if they are impaired and driving would create an undue risk to anyone.

Steps to reduce fatigue risks

Use this 3-step approach to help manage fatigue risks:

Step 1. Identify risks of driver fatigue
Step 2. Assess risk level
Step 3. Remove or reduce risks

What drivers can do

No matter how much or how little you drive for work, fatigue can put you at risk. It can affect all drivers regardless of age, skill level, or experience. Your employer needs to educate, train, and supervise you in safe driving procedures. You can also take some basic steps to help prevent fatigue.

How to stay awake and alert

Whether you drive for several hours each day or just a few minutes there is plenty you can do to improve your own safety and help make sure you’re not involved in a crash because of fatigue.

  • Make sure you get enough sleep – 7 or 8 hours each night.
  • Keep your energy levels up – eat good meals and healthy snacks.
  • Don’t leave driving until the end of the day when you’re bound to be tired.
  • Follow your employer’s instructions for controlling the fatigue risks. And if you know you’re too fatigued to drive safely, you have a responsibility to refuse unsafe work.

Take the following steps to help reduce or prevent fatigue on the road:

Manage your journey
Set up your workplace on wheels
Take regular breaks
Watch what you eat and drink
Take a nap

Resources

Employees Who Drive Their Own Vehicle infographic
PDF 1MB
Tailgate meeting guide: Explaining employee road safety responsibilities
Tailgate Meeting Guide: Explaining Employee Road Safety Responsibilities
PDF 304KB