LAS VEGAS, Nevada. Long haul truckers work grueling hours, spend days and sometimes weeks away from home, and are sometimes sleep-deprived, even though hours of service laws require them to get regular rest. According to Popular Mechanics, truck drivers who put in longer hauls get paid more, but this means that they may not see family or friends for longer periods of time. While some of the risks of driving a truck are pretty well known: fatigue, heavy loads, break failure—there isn’t a great deal of information on how the loneliness of the road can impact driver safety. Yet, loneliness is something truck companies should consider because it can have a real material impact on how safe drivers are being.
For example, one driver speaking to Popular Mechanics noted that some drivers spend as long as 4000 to 5000 minutes on the phone. While truck drivers need to be able to stay in touch with family, and while phones are probably the best way to do it, talking on the phone while driving can be distracting. One hopes that drivers are using hands-free devices.
Yet, the impact of loneliness on the road can be much more serious than motivating a driver to pick up his or her phone from time to time. Lack of human touch and interaction can affect a person’s cortisol levels. The New Yorker recently reported on a study on institutionalized infants. Institutionalized infants who were touched and handled regularly had low cortisol levels, while those who did not receive human interaction had high levels of the stress hormone when their saliva was tested. Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone. High levels can lead to weight gain and high blood pressure. It can impact your sleep and mood. It can even increase your risk of developing diabetes. Cortisol can also affect a person’s memory. If drivers lack human contact for long periods of time, this can not only affect their health, but also their moods, and even their memories. Health problems can require drivers to take medications which can impact their reaction time on the road. If a driver’s sleep is already disrupted due to shifted cortisol levels, the lower cortisol can further impact a driver’s sleep when the time comes to rest. This can also affect a person’s reaction time behind the wheel. Studies have shown that fatigue can be just as dangerous as drinking and driving.
Other studies have found that frequent touch is indicative of strong social bonds. Touch can lead to more happiness, health, and longer lives. If truck drivers are not interacting in person with people they care about on a regular basis, this can not only be impacting their own health, but also be putting others at risk.
What is the solution? Better social support networks at places truckers congregate could possibly alleviate the problem. Requiring truck drivers to have regular time off to visit family and reconnect with friends could also help. At the end of the day, truck drivers are largely on their own. The accident lawyers at Dinizulu Law Group in Chicago work closely with families and victims impacted by accidents. We see the ways that truckers’ health is an issue for all drivers on the road. If you have questions about an accident you’ve been involved in, visit us at www.dinizululawgroup.com to learn more.