Avoiding Drowsy Driving: How Truck Drivers are Trained

By Lindsay Clein

Published 06/13 2014 09:37PM

Updated 06/13 2014 10:14PM

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. --  One of the biggest dangers on our roads is drivers who fall asleep behind the wheel.

Earlier this week, a semi driver fell asleep-- causing a crash on Highway 65 north of Buffalo. Comedian Tracy Morgan was also recently hurt in a crash in New Jersey involving a semi driver who may have been sleep deprived.

Fatigue is a big issue within the truck-driving industry and drowsy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving.

"We don't want anyone to get hurt just because a load needs to be delivered on time," says Prime Trucking Safety Director Steve Field.  "We'll take the heat-- but we want our drivers to stop when they're tired."

Staff members at Prime, Inc. in Springfield say in their fleet, safety comes first.

"It's our highest calling," says Field.  "We do have 5,000 trucks on the road with 6,000 drivers-- we realize we share the road with everyone."   

Drivers are regulated by their hours.

"Generally, it's eleven hours a day that a driver can drive -- but he's gotta get it done within a 14 hour period."

Their hours are tracked electronically.

"In the old days, we would use paper log books that weren't that accurate," says Field.  "Now, we use the on-board computer to keep track of their hours."

With 70 percent of the country's freight delivered by trucks, Prime Trucking Company does its best to keep people safe on the roads.

"If the driver is tired-- we ask that he pull over," says Field.  "We ask that he stop."

On-board communication systems allow drivers to constantly be in touch with dispatchers.

"We pretty much know where they are all the time," says Field.  "And we are always available for them if they need to talk to us."

In addition to getting a commercial license, most truck companies require extensive training procedures and tests.

Drowsy driving can be just as deadly as drunk driving.

"We see a lot of the same characteristics," says Missouri State Highway Patrol Sergeant Jason Pace.  "The swerving, the traveling off the road or across the center line-- intermittent speeds, lack of attention on the roads."

"The truck drivers have families," says Field.  "The last thing they want to do is hurt themselves or someone else."

Pace says nationally, there are between 5,000 and 6,000 fatal traffic crashes a year caused by drowsy driving.  He says it's important to recognize symptoms-- if you find yourself yawning, blinking a lot, missing an exit or not realizing miles previously driven-- it's important to pull over and get rest.

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