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How to stay alert while driving long distances - 9 tips for truck drivers

A Schneider semi-truck hauling a trailer with a sunset behind it.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Editor’s note: Never drive when tired. If at any time you start to feel fatigued when driving, pull over to a safe and legal parking area to rest before continuing your journey.

Driving long distances can get tiring, whether it’s due to unchanging scenery, driving at night, sleeping poorly or being on the road for long hours.

In this blog, we'll identify some warning signs of drowsy driving and provide some tips on how to stay alert while driving long distances.

Warning signs and symptoms of driving while fatigued

Many people assume they’ll know when they’re too fatigued to drive, but since drowsiness makes it harder to tell, it’s important to be aware of other indicators, including:

  • Varying your speed.
  • Having slower reaction times.
  • Turning up the volume on the radio.
  • Feeling uncomfortable in your seat.
  • Adjusting your hat repeatedly.
  • Opening and closing the windows.
  • Looking straight ahead and not doing traffic scans as often as you should.
  • Forgetting which mile marker you’re at.

A Schneider truck with its lights on is parked at a scenic truck stop for the evening.

Some steps to take if you notice yourself getting tired while driving

Some steps to take if you notice yourself getting tired while driving First and foremost, it is against the law for truck drivers to operate a truck while the driver’s ability or alertness is impaired. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations provide that:
“No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle...”

If you notice yourself getting tired:

  • Do not downplay your tiredness or push yourself to stay awake through a tired spell.
  • Find a safe and legal place to park (i.e. a rest area, truck stop, etc.) and get some rest before continuing your journey.

If you have to ask yourself how to stay alert or awake when driving, you should not be driving.

9 tips to help truck drivers stay alert driving long distances

How do truck drivers stay vigilant on the road? In addition to following Hours of Service regulations, you can help yourself stay alert while driving by using the following truck driver tips:

1. Know your biological clock.

You have a circadian rhythm – a 24-hour biological cycle built into your body. Be aware of how much sleep is optimal for you. For many people, seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep in every 24-hour period is typical (but, of course, you may be different).

It may be tempting to stay awake watching movies, reading or playing video games instead of sleeping during your 10-hour break. But relaxing while awake does not recharge you like sleep does. So, be sure you’re leaving enough time for sleep, and are parking in good places for truck drivers to sleep.

2. Plan every trip.

Trip planning is a must when it comes to truck driving.

When mapping out your trip, make sure you are planning enough stops for breaks and sleep. Be aware of safe, well-lit truck stops and rest areas along your route so you always have a place to stop if you start to get tired.

Schneider Team drivers do some trip planning at a driver lounge.

3. Stay active and stretch. 

Experts have found that exercise can help promote better sleep. Not only does exercise tire you out, but it also helps to relieve the stress or anxiety that may be keeping you awake at night. 

Drivers should try to schedule stretch breaks every two to three hours and try to fit about 30 minutes of physical activity into their daily schedule.   

4. Take naps when needed. 

Your safety and the safety of the other motorists on the road matter. If you feel fatigued, stop in a safe and legal parking place to take a nap.  Sometimes even a 20–40-minute nap can help re-energize you.  

5. Limit your caffeine intake. 

Caffeine, although a stimulant, is only a short-term fix. 

Regularly relying on caffeine to get through your day or driving shift may be an indicator that you should try to get more sleep.  

6. Stay hydrated. 

Did you know dehydration has been shown to negatively impact your attention span and alertness? You can improve your sleep quality and stay more alert while driving simply by drinking more water.  

The Mayo Clinic suggests that adults drink about three or more liters of water a day to stay properly hydrated. 

7. Scan actively and drive defensively. 

Being a defensive driver keeps your focus on the road and helps you stay engaged and alert. 

Be sure to scan actively by moving your eyes every two seconds, checking a mirror every three to four seconds and developing a six to eight second scanning pattern (e.g. right mirror, front, left mirror, front, gauge, front). Of course, certain situations may require you to scan and check more frequently, so know your surroundings. 

A truck driver checks his side mirrors while backing his trailer.

8. Listen to something different. 

Driving long distances can be dull at times. Engage your mind with an audio book, listen to upbeat music or tune into a radio talk show. 

9. Eat light before going to bed. 

A big meal before bed can cause your metabolism to fire up, which can cause your body to stay awake or lead to disrupted sleep. Save your big meal for when you wake up or in the middle of your day. 

You can avoid accidentally eating too much before bed by planning your meals and controlling your portions by cooking your own food on the road.  

Do you dream of a better night of rest while on the road?

Safe drivers are alert and well-rested drivers. Discover new ways to improve your quality of sleep as a truck driver by checking out our other blogs about sleep.

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Schneider Guy loves the "Big Orange." He's passionate about the trucking industry and connecting people to rewarding careers within it. He's been the eyes and ears of our company since our founding in 1935, and he's excited to interact with prospective and current Schneider associates through "A Slice of Orange."

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