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Some Advice: Nodding Dog Syndrome (NDS)*

Some Advice: Nodding Dog Syndrome (NDS)*

While this term has not yet gained traction in the trade magazines (as I am confident it soon will), many LGV drivers, I’m sure, will already know exactly what I mean when I say ‘nodding dog syndrome’.

Having racked up many miles behind the wheel, it’s normal for a driver to become a little fatigued (that’s why they have drivers’ hours laws). And when you’re fatigued, your concentration levels take a dip. Combine this with the unsociable hours we often work, and it can be a recipe for disaster. That’s why it’s important to take care of ourselves. This is something that we always make a point of covering with new candidates going through our HGV Driver Training Program.

This blog post hasn’t been written with the intention of dissuading people from entering the industry. Quite the contrary. The aim of this article is to provide a realistic picture of life as a lorry driver, so that new and returning drivers are prepared for what’s ahead.

Here’s a list of 10 things you can do to stay alert behind the wheel.

1: Take sufficient daily rest.

As we know, by law we must take a minimum of 9 hours reduced daily rest, or 11 hours regular daily rest. That’s not to say if you’re still tired no one can force you to drive.

2: Don’t skip and tip.

We need a break during the day. However, the urge to work through your break period can be overwhelming. Especially if you get a job doing multi-drop, the temptation to work through your 45-minute driving break can be almost irresistible. However, not only are you depriving yourself of a break – we all need one during the day – you’d also be breaking the law. Don’t do it.

3: Keep the cab cool.

Studies have shown the human body becomes more relaxed in the heat. Modern wagons leave the factory with built-in cruise control, heated seats, automatic transmission, and proximity sensors to alert you when you get too close to the vehicle in front.

Of course, these gadgets are designed with our comfort in mind. In fact, it has been scientifically proven that when your feet are warm, your body starts to wind down and can encourage you to nod off. Before I became a driving instructor, there were times when I was halfway through a long-haul, when I was so worn out, that the only thing keeping me awake was the cool breeze blowing through the cab. Never underestimate the importance of proper ventilation. There is such a thing as being too comfortable – and it can be dangerous.

4: Don’t eat too much!

One of the perks of becoming a wagon driver is that you get to try some wonderful food from all over the country (and abroad!) that you would not otherwise have access to. Whether that’s from your customers feeding you ice lollies in the summer or warm drinks in those bitter winter days or, more preciously, the amount of sandwich vans you’ll come across during your shift; the lure of just one more burger can impact your entire working day. Having a heavy meal before or during your shift will ultimately make you want to sleep the meal off. What’s your favourite part of Christmas day? Mine is sleeping on the settee after dinner. Well, the same applies to when you’re at work in the truck too! Eat regularly, but lightly. Graze, don’t gorge.

5: Stay away from energy drinks.

Some people swear by energy drinks, but the simple fact is that besides the caffeine, they’re also full of sugar. Of course, this combination gives you quite a boost – but what goes up comes down. Evidence has shown that normal caffeine will take between 15 – 20 minutes to be absorbed by the brain. The caffeine in energy drinks, however, can take up to one hour to be absorbed. Once the ‘high’ has passed, you will often find yourself less alert than you were before you took your first sip.

6. Remember to relax.

Some of us love to work. However, you have a home life too. When you’re off the clock, don’t burden yourself with work. Remember it is illegal to interrupt your rest periods.

7: Avoid the sweeties!

I admit, often I found myself stocking up on chocolate and jellies and whatever else the supermarket had to offer. I would have a schedule in mind: I knew what I would eat, and when I would eat it. About 10 minutes after setting off, however, this diet would go to the dogs. The truth is that when you eat sugar, you want more sugar. My stomach wanted what my so-called rationing could not provide. So rationing went out of the window. The stomach always wins. My point is that when you eat, eat healthily, eat until satiated, but do not overdo it. Keeping your equilibrium stable is crucial for staying alert over long periods.

8: Take regular breaks.

Yes, we know you CAN drive 4.5 hours without stopping. But that’s a long time. And it’s the legal limit. If at any point during your journey you start to feel tired, pull over in a safe place and rest.

Car drivers are encouraged to take a 15-minute break every 2 hours. So, with this logic, surely it is acceptable to take a break in the wagon every 2 hours? Of course it is! But remember, your 45-minute break can only be split into 2 separate periods (should you wish to split them). The 1st period is always at least 15 minutes, and the second is always at least 30 minutes. And in fact, for the benefit of the new drivers reading this: always take at least a few minutes over the bare minimum to make sure the time has registered on the tachograph.

9: Don’t Rush.

There is nothing more to say about this. Your manager would rather you were a little late to a drop than to fail to arrive at all. Remember as a professional driver it is YOUR responsibility to ensure the safety of other road users.

10: Try not to drive during the night if possible.

During the hours of 00:00 and 06:00, because of the body’s biorhythm, we are at our least efficient.

*Copyright Ian Scott Shannon 2020

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