The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration devotes a great deal of time to helping truckers—and by extension, the drivers around them—reach their destinations safely.

Of major concern is the ongoing problem of drowsiness. All drivers experience fatigue at some point, but the FMCSA recommends five steps truck drivers can take to avoid a crash.

Avoiding medication-related drowsiness

Medicines that may cause drowsiness include those for colds and allergies, and, of course, tranquilizers and sleeping pills. Truckers should read the warning labels both on prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Some advise against driving or operating equipment while taking the drug.

Maintaining a healthy diet

Unhealthy eating habits combined with long working hours and sleep problems can easily lead to truckers falling asleep at the wheel. Drivers should not skip meals, and they should avoid eating at irregular times.

Recognizing the danger signals

Blurry vision and frequent yawning are two of the red flags that signal the onset of drowsiness. The FMCSA reports that the findings of a 2005 study indicated that three out of four truck drivers had experienced driving errors because of drowsiness.

Taking naps

Once the danger signals begin, truckers should find a safe place to pull over and take a nap. A short nap can restore energy better than drinking a cup of coffee. Upon waking, drivers should allow at least 15 minutes to become fully awake before getting back on the road.

Being aware of the circadian rhythm

Sufficient sleep is essential for trucker safety, so drivers must take the circadian rhythm into account. This is the wake/sleep cycle to which bodies are attuned and which controls the pattern of alertness. Natural drowsiness occurs between midnight and 6 a.m. and again between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Truckers and others should avoid driving at these times if at all possible.

The potential for disaster

Given the size and weight of an 18-wheeler, a collision between a big rig and a passenger vehicle can be devastating. Although many factors can contribute to a crash, such as speed, unbalanced cargo or maintenance issues, the FMCSA reports that driver fatigue is also a major factor, one that it is difficult for motorists to know anything about until it is too late.