Driver Fatigue and Freight Planning

Freight planning is an extremely challenging and stressful task for any organisation or individual. Given how many complexities and variables there are in moving freight, it is surprising things are as smooth as they frequently are.

The challenges alluded to above in freight planning exist even if drivers and equipment work without issue. However, driver fatigue is a problem in logistics that can derail even the most carefully laid-out plans. In the sections below, we will look at the issue of driver fatigue and how freight planners can work with drivers to ensure both the safety of the drivers and the timely delivery of their goods.

Hours of Service – The Bare Minimum

Commercial drivers in Canada are regulated by hours of service legislation. Carriers are required to ensure that their drivers abide by federal hours of service rules if their vehicles exceed a gross vehicle weight of 4,500 kg and operate across provincial and/or international borders.

There may be specific legislation for provincial-only operators such as what is seen in Alberta, and drivers entering the USA must also follow American hours of service rules when in that country.

Either way, a carrier, and driver both need to understand the hours of service rules and not exceed them. These rules exist to keep road users safe from fatigued commercial drivers.

Hours of service rules set the maximum periods of work during a shift and the minimum rest required for drivers to restart and/or continue with their shifts. The purpose of these rules is to protect the health and safety of all road users, and fatigued drivers are required to stop and rest even if they have time remaining on their clock.

Beyond the Hours of Service

Just because a driver has legal time to drive does not mean that they are always fit to drive. Remember, hours of service rules set maximum drive/work times, and every driver will have days when it is not safe for them to use all of their hours.

Successful freight planners build a certain level of contingency into their plans. This means accounting for potentially fatigued drivers who report they are unable to complete their trip.

It can be tempting to look at a blank driver logbook as a canvas on which to paint an extremely ambitious and lucrative freight plan, but such business practices are unsustainable. Instead, recognise that drivers are human and that they will require, at times, a lessened pace to stay safe on the roads.

Successful companies understand that to move freight effectively, there needs to be some margin for error. For large companies, this may mean having some drivers and equipment available to fill in for problems. At smaller companies, margins for error can be built into load plans simply by not overpromising.

Overpromising is where freight planners can get into trouble. Just because a trip works on paper or in the dispatch software does not mean it is realistic. Customers will not appreciate a late delivery, so if your load plan requires perfect driving conditions and no-fuss equipment, a single problem has the potential to derail your plans.

Planning for Driver Fatigue

Of course, too much contingency planning can lead to unnecessarily poor productivity. If you know your drivers’ habits, you can build load plans that more accurately reflect the individual drivers who will be responsible for completing the task.

A good freight planner needs to understand the basics of driver fatigue. First, they must know the hours of service rules that apply to their drivers along with the legal routes. This ensures that unrealistic plans are not created right from the beginning.

Second, once a realistic plan has been made, the condition of the driver needs to be considered. For example, a line-haul driver may be more efficient on their first run of the week but require more time to complete a trip towards the end of the week because they have to stop for rest breaks due to accumulated fatigue from the week.

There are many different ways to manage driver schedules and routes to help manage driver fatigue, but the important point to highlight here is this: get to know your drivers and the rules they must follow. Once you can detect performance trends, you can alter your load plans accordingly.


No one can work at peak efficiency indefinitely. Whether an office worker or driver, no worker is consistently able to function at a safe level without adequate rest and time off. Freight planning needs to consider driver fatigue so that the human factors in logistics are understood and incorporated into the plan.

Drivers who are treated with respect and given load plans that allow for suitable rest will be more likely to stick with a company for the long-haul. High driver turnover makes it difficult to freight plan accurately, so all aspects of a company should be built with sustainability in mind.

Freight planners can take certain steps to increase their awareness of driver fatigue-related issues. At a minimum, they must be aware of the hours of service rules that govern their drivers and understand how inappropriate it is to ever attempt to coerce a driver into driving when unsafe.

Finally, any driver exhibiting signs of fatigue should be an indicator of a major safety problem. Taking the time to learn the specific signs of driver fatigue will help prepare any freight planner for the possibility of encountering a dangerously fatigued driver. Showing concern for the well-being of the driver and the motoring public will build goodwill that will improve the reputation of the carrier or broker.

Dave Elniski is a transportation safety professional, writer, and instructor based out of southern Alberta. Dave has worked as a driver in the flatbed segment of the industry and currently works as an Industry Advisor in Safety and Compliance with the Alberta Motor Transport Association, the AMTA. Additionally, he is a proud Canadian Armed Forces reservist.