Technology vs Regulation For Addressing Driver Fatigue


Most everyone can agree that truck driver fatigue is an issue worth addressing to improve the health and safety of the drivers and other motorists. The debate is mostly about what methods to use to address the problem so that there is real and measurable improvement in safety while minimizing the negative economic impacts on the truck drivers the trucking industry and the U.S. economy in general. Most recently the Department of Transportation enacted new hours of service rules to curb driver fatigue but some scientists have been busy with more technological approaches that are also worth considering.

The new DOT rules which took full effect on July 1st this year address driver fatigue by reducing hours of service from 82 hours down to 70 hours per week to ensure everyone has adequate rest. The regulation also requires drivers to take a 30 minute break during the first eight hours of each shift. Now for the fun part: truck drivers who reach the maximum 70 hours of driving within a week can resume their schedule if they have had 34 consecutive hours of rest which must include two nights of sleep between 1 and 5 a.m. However the 11-hour daily driving limit and 14-hour work day stays in effect with the new rule. If it sounds kind of complicated and tough to enforce that’s because it is.

According to freight data and Federal Travel Regulation Associates this new regulation may reduce productivity in the trucking industry by three percent translating to $18 billion in additional costs annually. That doesn’t include potential penalties (a carrier can pay $11000 per offense; drivers $2750) and the fact that drivers who drive less typically earn less and that’s not a good thing.

However fleet managers and researchers looking for a more straightforward and less costly solution met recently at a symposium held at the Virginia Transportation Institute (VTTI) to brainstorm how technology and not government regulation could be the answer to driver fatigue and distracted driving dangers.

The discussion explored advances in early warning systems and how integration into truck cabs could reduce accidents within the industry. While newer models of non-commercial vehicles have early warning systems that offer good examples for truck manufactures few utilize multiple indicators which many at the symposium agreed were necessary for trucker safety. Indicators discussed include eye-glance systems collision warning systems and lane departure warnings.

While the accuracy of these systems raised concerns with fleet managers and researchers alike both parties agreed that advances in these technologies are important to the issue of trucker fatigue and general safety. At the very least it appears to be the strongest alternative to the recent DOT regulations that so many truckers oppose.

According to their press release the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said only the most extreme schedule will be impacted by the regulations. More than 85 percent of the truck drivers will see no change to their current schedule.

Chronic fatigue comes from working long hours each day on a regular basis with the risk of crashes increasing as well as serious health conditions. FMCSA estimated these new regulations will prevent more than 500 injuries and 1400 crashes and save about 19 lives each year.

“It all comes down to enforcement” Dr. Jeff Hickman a specialist in behavior-based safety research at VTTI said. “You have to train your drivers but you can’t stop there. You may have a policy but a policy is only effective if you enforce it.”

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