When I used to look for summer jobs, I always thought it would be instructive, if not entirely profound, to drive truck. I knew a few kids who had satisfied the CDL paperwork and suddenly boasted routes up and down I-5 transporting garlic and tomatoes. But the convenience of service jobs abounded, and I never got around to climbing aboard a rig; however, the romance of the job lingered until various high school classmates and then a member of my family joined the fleet and could properly devastate my illusions of the itinerant life. I had envisioned my career on the road as similar to an Altman film (more Nashville than Short Cuts), but the reported facts held me in a snare...
For the people I knew, driving truck involved abject loneliness, emotional eating, and a codependent relationship with The Flying J. I didn't even really get that you just slept in your truck, which perhaps lessened the glamor (I have a thing for hotels--the cheaper the better). So to better understand my beloved truckers, I began reading trucker blogs, such as Adventures in Trucking and Truck Driver Blog. I wanted to know how they kept themselves awake, conscious, sentient while driving such distances--I certainly have issues with road stamina, but could I improve it if trucking were my career? According to statistics, maybe not:
- A 1995 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study found that of 107 heavy truck crashes, fatigue was a prominent factor in 75% of the run-off-the-road crashes, with 68% of long-haul drivers and 49% of short haul drivers suffering fatigue-related crashes. Working long shifts not only radically increases the risk of performance errors due to lost alertness and drowsiness, but it also impairs a trucker's ability to gain proper restorative sleep even when they have sufficient off-duty time for sleep. (Federal Highway Administration or FHWA, 1997)
- The rist of a crash effectively doubles from the eighth to the tenth hour of driving, and doubles again from the tenth to the eleventh hour of driving alone. (FMCSA, 2000).
I'm not sure how many of you out there drive truck for a living, or know people who do, but I'm sure most of us have dealt with road fatigue. How do you stay awake? I have to listen--almost exclusively--to country (maybe it's the conspicuous narrative) and then if that doesn't work then some piston-esque energy drink and lots of deep breathing. When the breathing gets shallow and long on the exhale, you'd better pull off the road and get your Flying J on.