I read recently that since 2005 more than 30000 people had died in the US as a result of large truck accidents.
My first reaction was surprise. Where are the headlines? How is it that in the US one or two deaths caused by Ebola send the media and the public into a virtual frenzy, yet – look at this number, people – 30,000 deaths due to large vehicle accidents barely raises an eyebrow.
Sure, images of scary viruses and patients dying in desperate circumstances make compelling reading. But vehicle accidents are no less traumatic, no less compelling, no less motivating, and far more frequent.
My second reaction was one of frustration, because the headline suggests throwing technology at the serious underlying issue of driver fatigue. A droopy-eyelid detector is hardly the wake-up call this problem needs.
It wouldn’t work in the airline industry, so why use it in trucks?
I can imagine the outcry if the travelling public were told that airlines were going to use this technology to keep their pilots awake. Relying on this would allow great savings – airlines could reduce their crew numbers, and keep them awake for longer stretches – like we do with trucks.
Would passengers be happy relying on a buzzer to keep the pilot awake, or to remind him/her that it would be a good idea to land now? I think not. So how come we stand back and tolerate the high number of preventable truck related deaths? How many people would travel if 30,000 people died in plane accidents over 9 years?
In the airline industry, multiple layers of redundancy are built into key management systems to prevent accidents from happening. And oddly enough, these key management systems are the same for the trucking industry: maintenance, fatigue, mass and load restraint, and speed. Staying with the fatigue issue – in the airline industry, working hours and rest breaks for flight crews are tightly controlled, and if the crew does not have available hours for a given flight, the plane will never leave the ground. Once in the air, there are further controls over work and sleep hours to ensure the flight crew are able to apply full attention to the task at all times. Multiple pilots are used in larger aircraft as a further protective measure.
The same principles should apply to the trucking industry.
Fatigue management systems that engage every person in the chain of responsibility, for every freight task, should be mandatory.
Fatigue management starts with the contract between the trucking company and the freight owner. Key performance indicators for on-time delivery and financial rewards to the freight company for on-time completion of freight tasks should be struck out, because they incentivize trucking companies to take risks with their drivers by pushing them harder, faster and longer.
Fatigue is not the sole responsibility of the driver. Other parties share responsibility for driver fatigue and its tragic consequences.
- Operators, Managers and Schedulers. These individuals must take reasonable steps to ensure that drivers are not impaired by fatigue, and that they do not work excessive hours.
- Consignors and Consignees. These guys set and control delivery requirements. They must not do anything to require or encourage drivers to:
- exceed speed limits
- exceed regulated driving hours
- fail to meet the minimum rest requirements
- drive while impaired by fatigue
- Loading Managers, Loaders and Packers. These people are responsible for loading and unloading freight quickly and efficiently, so as to prevent long delays on site which extend the drivers working hours and place undue pressure to complete the freight task.
All these people share responsibility for fatigue related accidents, and must be part of the solution.
The management of fatigue is complex and it requires commitment, diligence, and above all, good channels of communication across the chain of responsibility. Its goal is to ensure that you don’t get fatigued drivers in the first place. It’s the proper and systematic way to eliminate this awful trail of fatal accidents. Droopy eyelid detectors are a band aid and nothing more.
Regardless of revenue targets, incentives or government legislation, companies have a corporate and social responsibility to provide a safe work environment for their employees. A good place to start is by assessing your current compliance program, and then to implement an effective auditing process that protects your workers and fellow road users.