Keeping healthy on the road is difficult. Not only is it easy to become tired and distracted, especially on long-haul journeys, but tedious road trips can even lead to incessant snacking.
The average driver spends 293 hours a year behind the wheel. And that’s just people who drive to work or the shops. Professional drivers spend considerably more time in their vehicle, bringing a number of health and safety risks. In fact, the dangers of driving for a living are wide reaching, impacting both mental and physical health, and causing deaths on the road and off it.
So what can we do for all drivers to keep them healthy?
Tiredness contributes to 4% of all accidents. Unsurprisingly, commercial drivers are responsible for around 40% of fatigue-related crashes. As most professional drivers are in control of bigger, heavier vehicles, this can lead to more serious accidents.
Although pulling over when tired seems like a logical decision, drivers under pressure to meet tight, and often unrealistic deadlines, are more likely to take the risk. Research on the mental health of truckers found that those studied regularly drove “longer and more continuous hours, often while tired, and sometimes altering their logbooks (or keeping double logbooks) to stay in accordance with Federal HOS regulations.”
This dangerous type of driver behavior shows that it is a problem to expect the drivers to self-regulate and why businesses need fleet safety systems in place. When they need to meet a deadline, the temptation to cook the books can often be too great. As fleet management software can collect data electronically, businesses can use this to ensure drivers take the breaks they are legally required to take. Movalytics state that businesses can improve fleet safety by policing dangerous driving. This includes checking they take regular breaks.
For the average driver, this can mean ensuring you use an app or route planner tool that reminds you to take regular breaks. Then they have to make sure to stick to it.
Ditching the snacks
Eating unhealthy foods can be far quicker and easier than sourcing healthier alternatives. Although the risks associated with snacking may not seem as immediate as mental health and tiredness, when coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, it can be deadly.
Not only is snacking one of the most common forms of distracted driving. According to a 2014 study, a driver who is drinking or eating is 3.6 times more likely to have an accident. To prevent this, drivers should, when possible, pull over to enjoy a meal, and this can be interlinked with scheduled breaks to avoid tiredness.
There are also certain foods that are more likely to result in an incident than others. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ranked the 10 most dangerous road foods. A list that included but isn’t limited to, doughnuts, hamburgers, chili, soups and coffee.
Healthy meals and snacks are important for anyone driving for work, helping you to maintain energy levels and arrive at your destination feeling your best. It is possible to eat healthier whilst driving, in fact, one driver recently made headlines for preparing a salad at the side of the road. Alternatively, you could just choose healthier options on the menus of fast-food chains.
Understanding the importance of mental health
Making sure drivers take regular breaks is particularly pertinent for long-haul drivers or those that work from the road. Writing on the mental and physical effects of long-haul trucking, Dan Nosowitz says that “long-haul truckers have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, divorce, and drug use.”
Unfortunately, there is painfully little acknowledgment of this issue, nevermind genuine help. There are some support groups truckers and professional drivers can turn to though. The Healthy Trucker is one such website offering support and advice for drivers who feel they need help, both for their mental and physical health. The Healthy Trucker states that they, through free online tips, hope to “help truckers handle the challenges that come along with driving to find an overall life balance that ultimately leads to happier living.”
Considering the mental (not to mention physical) toll of spending hours upon end driving, you need to be sure to take care and find practical solutions. For example, if you’re travelling for business, do you have to drive or can you take a train? If you’re travelling back and forth to the same destination, can your company pay for a hotel or rental accommodation?
So, in answer to our original question: how do we keep healthy on the road and create happy and safe drivers? We monitor their driving, help them to make informed decisions about breaks and snacks to keep them going, and we reduce the amount of time on the road (as much as possible).