Sleep deprivation can affect the body in a variety of ways: altering a person’s mood, productivity, concentration, memory, and possibly increasing their risk for developing serious health defects.
One of the most common sleep disorders — insomnia — is caused by a person’s inability to get or maintain sleep. Another common disorder is obstructive sleep apnea, which occurs when there is a collapse of a person’s airway during sleep that results in pauses in breathing, drops in oxygen levels, and added stress on the cardiovascular system. Both could present major challenges for pupil transporters.
“For commercial drivers, insufficient sleep, either from not getting enough or from sleep disorders, puts them at risk for all the health problems associated with sleep deprivation, but also increases the risk for motor vehicle and workplace accidents,” says Dr. Lawrence Epstein, a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and president and CEO of the Welltrinsic Sleep Network.
Drivers who miss one to two hours of the recommended seven hours of sleep within a 24-hour period nearly double the risk for a crash, according a 2016 report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The same report also found that drivers who miss two to three hours of sleep more than quadruple their risk of a crash compared to drivers who get the recommended seven hours.
“When a driver is tired, either from losing an hour or two of sleep or working a long shift, they are impaired in a way that’s very similar to drunk driving,” Emily Whitcomb, senior manager for the National Safety Council (NSC), points out. “Tired drivers have a slower reaction time, decreased vigilance, and decreased attention, just to name a few of the performance effects.”
If a school bus driver is fatigued, chances are they are not only putting themselves in danger, but the students they transport, other drivers, and pedestrians as well. School Bus Fleet spoke with a few safety and pupil transportation experts about the importance of promoting proper sleep health, from monitoring driver hours to performing consistent wellness checks.
1. Educate, Educate, Educate.
Without proper knowledge of fatigue management, drivers may not know how to improve their sleep habits or how many hours of sleep they should be getting every night. That’s why it’s essential for transportation operations to provide training and materials.
Peggy Overton, the transportation director for Queen Creek (Ariz.) Unified School District, says she requires her transportation staff to attend mandatory in-service meetings once a month to discuss all aspects of the district’s safety standards and policies, including fatigue management.
“We stress the importance of taking care of yourself, remaining in good health, and getting enough rest throughout the night,” she adds.
School transportation provider First Student Inc. follows a similar protocol, requiring its drivers to watch a 60-minute DVD covering general training topics, including driver fatigue, during in-service meetings held at the beginning of the school year.
“We spend about an hour on fatigue management during each meeting,” says Darryl Hill, First Student’s senior vice president of safety. “The drivers are made aware of logging their information and documenting a log through our locations to make sure they don’t exceed the maximum number of driver hours over a particular period of time.”
2. Track Driver Hours.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has three maximum-hours-of-service regulations that all commercial vehicle drivers must adhere to: the 15-hour on-duty limit, the 10-hour driving limit, and the 60/70-hour duty limit, which is based on a driver’s number of hours within a seven- or eight-day period.
In addition to these regulations, pupil transportation providers are expected to follow any policies administered by their state and/or school district.
At Queen Creek, Overton says she adheres to the FMCSA’s requirements, in addition to keeping an individual log of drivers’ hours.
“We track the driver’s daily, weekly, and monthly hours on a time log program,” she explains. “[The driver’s] additional work assignments are given a week in advance to enable them to plan ahead.”
She also says she encourages drivers to keep a personal log of their assigned work hours in case there are any discrepancies.
For First Student’s operations, Hill says the majority of its drivers complete no more than 60 driving hours within a seven-day period, unless they perform mostly charter routes. Then, their driving time would generally be between 30 to 40 hours.
“We monitor drivers to ensure they have the required eight hours off duty before returning from a late-night field trip or charter route,” he says. “If drivers return late in the evening, they’ll miss the morning route if they didn’t get the eight hours off.”
3. Perform Safety, Wellness Checks.
Conducting routine check-ins within the transportation department can help monitor any changes in a driver’s health that may affect the efficiency and safety of the operation.
For example, First Student performs site safety reviews for each of its locations every two to three years. Each review includes an assessment of employee performance and compliance with safety regulations.
“Up until last year, we would visit all our sites on an annual basis,” Hill explains. “But because we wanted our site safety reviews to be more comprehensive and wanted to focus on the locations that had greater risk based upon criteria and metrics that we identify, now we conduct about 170 site safety reviews each year.”
For the First Student locations that do not receive site safety reviews, those employees complete a wellness checklist assessing specific key risk areas, including sleep health.
These routine check-ins, Overton says, may also include physical fitness and medical examinations to track possible sleep-related health issues.
4. Maintain Open Communication.
Establishing a work environment where drivers feel comfortable discussing any health-related problems that may hinder their performance is crucial.
“We live in a 24/7 world with a long history of promoting sleep loss,” NSC’s Whitcomb says. “We need to start communicating the importance of sleep and prioritizing seven to nine hours of sleep every day.”
As a transportation director, Overton says adopting an open-door policy has helped her create positive driver-supervisor relationships in which drivers regularly communicate information that is pertinent to their work performance.
If the transportation director isn’t as readily available, Hill says dispatchers can also play a key role in determining whether a driver is fit for duty.
“Dispatchers provide that visible assurance,” Hill points out. “As the drivers are getting their assignments for the day or before they head out on their morning and/or afternoon routes, dispatchers are one of the first people they see. They can help determine if [a driver] is really ready to head out on the road.”
5. Create Special Route Assignments.
While drivers may be trained to drive in a variety of conditions, it’s important to keep in mind that when it comes to the amount of time required, all routes are not “one size fits all.”
Some drivers may be more suited for mainstream routes, while others may be more suited for our shorter special-needs routes, Overton explains.
To prevent drivers from over-extending their hours, Overton recommends that transportation managers start assigning routes by seniority and feasibility. This may mean assigning field trips and additional work based on a driver’s availability instead of basing them on their typical assignment schedules.
6. Monitor Driver’s Dual Employment.
Oftentimes drivers may have roles in different departments within a district or even second jobs outside of the district, possibly driving for ridesharing services like Lyft or Uber. That’s why, Hill says, it’s imperative for transportation departments to be informed about a driver’s outside employment hours.
Over the next six to 12 months, First Student plans to implement a three-step process for tracking a driver’s secondary employment. The first step of the process, Hill says, would be for drivers to disclose to the company whether or not they have secondary employment opportunities. The second step would be for the driver to disclose the number of outside hours that they plan to work within an eight-day period, and lastly, assessing the best possible way for each location to monitor those outside hours for each driver.