Is technology the answer to make our roads safer?

Will fatigue-monitoring systems change hours-based regulations?

Dan Osterberg, formerly safety head with Schneider National estimates fatigue plays a part in 30 to 40 percent of high–severity truck–involved accidents.  If he’s correct, nearly 1,500 of the annual truck–involved fatalities (4,317 in 2016) can be blamed at least in part on fatigued driving.

In March, former National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind said fatigue is a factor in 20 percent of crashes. This was based in part on a series of transportation disasters, only some involving trucks, investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board. 

In the fatal Walmart truck crash involving comedian Tracy Morgan, the truck driver was legal on hours even though he hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours prior to the wreck.

Nearly eight in 10 truck operators say they feel pressured by either their company or the hours of service rule to drive tired on at least a weekly basis, according to recent Overdrive polling. Almost half reported driving fatigued on a daily basis.

Those numbers highlight a deficiency in the federal government’s primary tool – HOS limits – for dealing with potential driver fatigue. While requiring drivers to take at least 10 off-duty hours out of every 24, the regulations can’t control the off-duty period.

They don’t account for a restless night’s sleep, undetected sleep apnea or foolish time management.

So what’s the answer?

Fatigue-monitoring technology promises to drastically narrow the often vast gap between the government’s formula for alertness and the reality of frequent fatigue. Such systems applied to individual drivers could theoretically replace the clock-based system that attempts to cover all drivers.

The systems could help usher in a regulatory protocol where “drivers with good habits go further, longer,” says Richard Kaplan, chief executive officer of Curaegis, which makes a wearable device that yields predictive and real-time fatigue assessments.

“Drivers who aren’t as healthy or who stay out all night or whatever are not able to stay out so long.”

While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is studying some of these technologies, it’s years away from possible consideration of an HOS revision that would even begin to incorporate them.

Things are happening much faster in the private sector. Dashcam systems with fatigue-monitoring potential are coming to market rapidly, and a variety of systems that don’t use cameras are starting to make headway in trucking. Fleet customers are getting an increasingly accurate picture of drivers’ fatigue levels, which never has been available. Countering that, though, is potential driver resistance over privacy issues, especially with driver-facing dashcams.

Don Osterberg, formerly safety head with Schneider National, well knows the challenges fleets face, as well as the huge effect fatigue, has on safety. He’s an adviser today for SmartDrive, one of the leading road-facing and multi-camera systems.

Road safety is of paramount concern for all drivers and all industries.

Whether it’s HOS, fatigue monitoring systems or something else, road safety affects all drivers in all industries. Traffic and congestion on our roadways, as well as the deteriorating condition of our bridges and roads all, play a part in road safety issues. The biggest impact on safety may be to better educate all drivers to be more safety conscious. Professional truck drivers are more aware of safety due to all the regulations imposed on the trucking industry.  They are also well-aware of the limitations of the big rigs and the potential damage in the event of an accident. The everyday passenger vehicle driver needs to be equally educated on how to share the road.


Overdrive Online: Fatigue Monitoring