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A rule requiring truck drivers to begin their work week with at least two nighttime rest periods is helping to reduce their fatigue on their road, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says. The agency released a study on the effectiveness of the new rule compared with an old requirement for one nighttime rest period.

Fatigue is a major work-related hazard for truckers. A truck driver who is dozing off at the wheel is much more likely to cause an accident that injures or kills others on the highway.

New hours-of-service regulations for commercial truck drivers went into effect in July 2013. The rules require at least two rest periods between 1 AM and 5 AM to make sure drivers are rested before they began their duty cycle. According to sleep experts, this period is the time of the night when the body benefits most from good rest.

Congress, however, required that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration prove that the new requirement would improve safety for truck drivers. To comply with the requirement, the agency commissioned a study by the Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Centre and Pulsar Informatics.

Overall, more than 100 truck drivers were analyzed as part of the study. The researchers went through more than 1, 260 days of sleep data and measured sleep, sleepiness and driving performance of the truck drivers. The study compared drivers who were beginning the week’s operations with just one nighttime rest period to those who had two separate nighttime rest periods.

The researchers found that drivers with just one nighttime rest period showed much greater lapses of attention, especially when they were driving at night. They also reported higher levels of fatigue and sleepiness, especially toward the end of their duty periods. This is already a very risky time for drivers, because they are tired and stressed by the end of the workweek.

The researchers found that when the drivers had only had one rest period, they showed a greater tendency to deviate from the proper lane, a situation that has the potential to result in a serious accident.

Apart from sufficient rest, eating healthy meals, maintaining an ideal weight and refraining from smoking can also help truck drivers stay healthy and fresh on the road.