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Fleet Beat

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Protecting Tired Drivers During the Covid Pandemic

25.04.2020 Fleet Management,Collision Avoidance,Fleet Safety

Between strained supply lines and increased demand the trucking industry, and fleet drivers, are under tremendous pressure. In a sign of how serious the situation is. Across Europe restrictions on the number of hours drivers can work have also been eased. In Australiaseveral states have lifted delivery truck curfews, allowing stores to receive goods 24 hours a day.  And in the US, since March 13 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) suspended the 82-year-old-hours-of- service (HOS) rules for commercial vehicles delivering relief in response to the coronavirus outbreak.  

Of course, this regulatory suspension comes at a price –increased risks from drowsy driving, especially in light of a 2010 study showing that truck drivers work 50% more hours than most workers. According to the CDC, drowsy driving decreases drivers ability to pay attention to the road, slows reaction times and affects drivers’ ability to make decisions. Queensland’s Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety (CARRS-Q) published a fact sheet confirming that commercial drivers including heavy vehicle drivers are at a higher risk of sleepless related crashes, estimating that 1 in 3 fatal articulated truck crashes involve fatigue.  In the US, the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS) reported that 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their crash. 

In addition to the dangers caused by drowsy driving, truckers are also facing increased stress, from both work demands and the increased stress we all feel from the general situation. Not only is this stress harmful to the individual’s health but is actually considered one of the leading causes of collisions.[1]

So, how can fleet managers help their drivers combat drowsy and stressful driving? Perhaps the most important step is trusting your drivers and making sure they know it. The person best suited to know when they are too tired or too stressed to go on is the driver themselves and they need to know you have their back if they need a break. 

In addition, there are also technologies and techniques to help:  

1.      In-cab cameras – Some in-cab cameras are equipped with sensors that can detect when a driver shows signs of nodding off, alerting them to the situation. The downside is that these detectors have privacy issues that make some drivers uncomfortable. 

2.     Wearable devices – There have been a number of wearable devices developed to detect fatigue and warn drivers before they call asleep.  

3.     Collision avoidance systems – While not specifically designed for drowsy driving, these systems alert drivers to potential collisions that can occur due to drowsy driving. For instance, if a driver loses focus and gets too close to a vehicle ahead, the system will alert the driver. Many systems will also warn drivers if they change lines without signalling, which can also be an indication of drowsy driving. These systems also have the advantage of being able to assist drivers even if they are not tired but rather distracted or have simply made an error. 

4.     Keeping Aware – Like many of us, drivers are likely to hide signs of exhaustion and especially signs of stress. This makes it important for fleet managers to focus and try and spot when drivers have reached their limits. Especially be aware if a staff member has altered their behaviour. If you do notice a change, asking them how they’re doing can be helpful. Some may cover up any issues but you may be surprised that others are simply waiting to be asked. Of course, it helps if you’ve created an atmosphere where employees feel comfortable being open with you. 

5.     Decrease Wait Times – Waiting around while their vehicle is loaded/unloaded is one of the great frustrations of truck drivers, adding unnecessary stress and fatigue. Now, may be a good time for fleet managers to start working with clients to minimize these times. 

6.     Nutrition – Many in the industry fail to recognize the importance of nutrition and hydration in driving skills.  No one expects managers to tell drivers what they can eat and drink, but fleets can provide healthy options, especially foods and drinks suitable for the road. Fleets can also encourage drivers to take a break for a more nutritious, relaxed meal, although with many restaurants being shut down, or limited to takeout food, that may be more of a challenge than usual. 

In the current situation we are dependent on a relatively small group of drivers who are making an extraordinary effort to keep us supplied while we wait for a return to normalcy. It seems the least we can do is make sure they are as safe as possible. 

 

[1]  Katsis, Christos et. El., A Reasoning-Based Framework for Car Drivers’ Stress Prediction, p.2

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