Trucking Fleet Owners and FMCSA focus on Sleep in 2017
Monday March 20, 2017 through Thursday March 23 researchers and representatives from many of the major federal agencies involved in trucking safety (FMCSA, NTSB, NHTSA) all met in San Diego, CA for the 10th International Conference on Managing Fatigue. They were joined by representatives from other modes of transportation (FAA, FRA, and USCG). Researchers from all over the globe presented on research related to fatigue.
Interesting presentations included one from Dr. Ann Williamson from the University of New South Wales in Australia. Trucking in Australia using B trains and triples which can be coupled into the spectacular Australian road trains being run over long distances pose many of the same challenges in hours of service regulation we face here in the states. The market forces which set freight rates result in many Australian lanes having rates less than the operator’s cost of operations. The Australian Government undertook a multi-year process to establish a minimum wage for freight rates to ensure at least break even rates. After country wide protests the rate determination board was disbanded by the Australian Congress. The Australian research found that freight being hauled at below cost rates had higher rates of both all crash and fatigue related crash.
Another presentation was on how astronauts involved with the International Space Station dealt with the same kinds of sleep disturbance and changes in sleep schedules truck drivers deal with daily. The presentation covered how a form of enhanced blue light therapy can help. As representatives from the Human Factors design team of Volvo trucks were in attendance, it will be interesting to see if enhanced blue light therapy shows up in future design concepts with Volvo.
Dr. Kimberly Honn lead researcher for Washington State University, who is the lead researcher for the upcoming FMCSA split sleeper berth study presented on plans for this study which many in trucking have been looking forward to. This study is designed to measure sleep, fatigue, and safety critical events. The pilot program study will recruit drivers to operate under an exemption to HOS regulations to be able to split break 3-7, 4-6, and 5-5. Using technology and equipment from the recent 34 hour restart study, volunteer drivers will record regular psycho motor vigilance (PVT) tests, have front and driver facing cameras, hard braking monitors and a special ELD system configured to record and allow split breaking. Psychomotor Vigilance Testing (PVT) which is a kind of scientific video game that measures both reaction time and someone’s ability to maintain concentration on a task. It is becoming a more widely used research tool in these types of studies.
Dr. Honn plans to use many of the same techniques and in fact much of the same equipment used in the 34 hr restart study. A minor problem found with the 34 hr restart study was a reluctance of motor carriers to allow drivers to enroll over concerns about liability issues around the use of driver and forward facing video. Fleet owners should watch if FMCSA and researchers obtain what is known as a Certificate of Confidentiality. This is a legal process done through the National Institute of Health that reviews, and if approved, provides strict legal protections from even a plaintiff attorney’s subpoena for access to research information. Having a wide range of company drivers, owner operators, small fleet owners, different types of operations, and different regions in trucking will be important.
Fleet owners cooperating with FMCSA on these types of studies will be important for the agency to have the data it needs to make better decisions on hours of service.