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Technological Solutions To Fight Truck Driver Fatigue And Distractions

With technology coming to the rescue in just about every facet of trucking, and not just trucking, but other industries too, many are wondering, “What’s next?” What newfangled innovation or technological solution will be another trucking gamechanger? Quite frankly, there are so many candidates that you can literally pick them from a hat.

Whether it be rollover-prevention technologies decreasing the numbers of catastrophic or fatal crashes or simple brake warning systems to alert the truck driver if there are any brake issues – technology is changing how business gets done within the tucking industry. Today, the elephants in the room where trucking safety is concerned are the twin topics of fatigue and truck driver distractions.

Is there a technological answer to helping truck drivers stay awake and with their eyes always firmly on the road? The answer is yes. Honestly, it has been some time since we have touched on the topic of telematics. In our last foray into the topic, we provided you with a comprehensive overview of how telematics can dramatically reshape your fleet for the better, but nowhere did we discuss the all-important safety topics of fatigue and distracted driving.

We’re going to take care of that today by bringing you an in-depth look at how advanced vehicle telematics can have a fleetwide impact on fatigue and distracted driving. While we understand that not every motor carrier can invest in these systems, understanding they exist and how they work is important.

All About the Risk

Driving a large commercial motor vehicle carries with it a certain amount of risk. It is simply inherent to the job. Operating a long-haul 80,000-pound tractor-trailer carries risk even on the clearest of days or over the emptiest of roads. On the flipside, operating a refuse truck in a neighborhood crowded with parked cars, running children, and other hazards and obstacles carries even more risk.

The difference lies in the details. Distracted driving is a problem for anyone, but fatigue does impact one segment of truck drivers more than others. OTR truckers are more susceptible to fatigue because of the long distances they must drive, often at night or during early-morning hours.

The risk associated with fatigue- or distraction-related driving is not limited to truck drivers. It is estimated that 14 percent of all reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2015 were distraction-related. The worst culprit, of course, is the cell phone.

Consider this factoid: two seconds of driving while using your phone is equivalent to 36 yards of blind driving. Professional truck drivers need to ask themselves, “How risky is my behavior?”

Whatever the answer to that question may be for any given individual, fleet managers are already on the case. They are figuring out how to use technology to address both fatigue and distracted driving in a motivational and interactive way.

Market-Ready Technologies

The future is now. Market-ready technologies that allow for real-time truck driver fatigue and distraction and accident prevention technologies are here. And note the plural enunciation there, because we aren’t talking about just one business. There are many companies actively innovating in this space and working hard to answer these questions as they relate to trucking specifically.

One example is an in-cab sensor that detects signs of fatigue or truck driver distraction using finely-tuned algorithms. The sensor, acting in lightning-quick real-time, can detect eye closure, head position, eyelid position, and micro-sleep activity.

If any of the symptoms are detected, an audible in-cab alarm will sound. In some systems, the truck driver’s seat might also vibrate. A capture technology records the event and then sends it back to the truck driver’s manager or other interested party.

The technology has become so advanced that even if a truck driver is wearing sunglasses, infrared sensors can still track eye movement. IR sensors are also quite useful for night diving.

What holds many fleets back from full-scale adoption of these technologies had previously always been their high price tag. Fortunately, that paradigm is shifting. There are so many companies competing in the space that the technologies required to make these systems work is more recognized and more widely available.

Even more, software advances have increased the accuracy, effectiveness, reliability, ease-of-use, and scalability of truck driver safety-related telematics systems. No longer do businesses need to worry about having a room full of servers or enough IT people to fill a small warehouse. Third-party vendors offer advanced, cloud-based, solutions backed by quality-built sensors and other in-cab or on-tractor devices.

A Real-Life Study

One telematics provider completed an in-depth study to gain greater understanding of fatigue- and distraction-related events and test telematics technology in effectively reducing them. To make matters more realistic and intense, the study was completed on truck drivers operating crude oil, gas, and sulfur. Of all the proud, professional types of truck drivers out there today, it may very well be hazardous materials haulers that bear the greatest risk of falling asleep at the wheel or becoming distracted.

In what may have been the most sobering aspects of the study, the first Phase concluded that the company was considered “at-risk” when the frequency and length of fatigue or distraction events was measured. It is quite likely the decision-makers at the test company found this quite disturbing, especially given the type of hauling they do.

Distraction events were also measured in alarmingly high numbers. During the study, a distraction event was defined as any situation where the truck driver’s head turns away from the road for any period. When a truck driver looked away from the road for a non-essential reason, this was catalogued as a distraction.

The main causes of truck driver distraction were definitely non-essential, as recorded by the study moderators. The study found the main causes of distraction was an operator reading something in his or her lap, such as a map or bill of lading, checking gauges, checking mirrors, or talking on a cellular phone.

While the study in question was completed by a telematics company selling a piece of software designed to prevent fatigue and distraction-related accidents to the best of its ability, the results were transparent, and quite telling.

When a telematics solution was used to alert a truck driver if they were succumbing to fatigue or distraction, the company saw a 96 percent reduction in overall fatigue events and 93 percent improvement in distances traveled when fatigue was detected. Even if these numbers were padded a little to enhance the company’s proprietary technology, it cannot be refuted that alerts and detection systems have a positive impact on how many truck drivers succumb to fatigue or distractions.

Telematics Combined with Wearables

Wearable technologies like fitness bracelets and watches have become all the rage. Tracking the number of “steps” one takes in a day is no longer something for the fringe Yoga crowd. Wearable tech has gone mainstream and provides real-world solutions where fatigue and distraction are concerned.

Non-camera in-cab safety technologies typically now involve a wearable device. Since truck drivers aren’t huge fans of the forward-facing camera, a wearable device provides an acceptable alternative. Wearable devices can be used in many ways.

For example, if a truck driver begins drifting to sleep, there will be telltale signs in blood pressure, heart rate, and more. The device may also be able to detect the position and direction of the wrist it is on by using an internal gyroscope. If the truck driver starts to drift and his or her hand falls from the wheel, the wearable either provides some sort of electro-stimulation or audio alarm to alert the operator that they are drifting and need to wake up.

Wearable devices can generally be operated over a cellular network as well, allowing any fatigue or distraction events detected by the wearable to be immediately transmitted back to home office for managerial review.

Motivation Through Technology

Fleets are operating in an ultra-competitive environment. They need to differentiate themselves from the competition if they want to attract only the best, and telematics and wearable technologies like these provide that critical difference, to both employees and clients.

Telematics systems can be used to provide a level of friendly competition for your truck drivers. Since they are tracking their performance in real-time, benchmarks and rewards can be set up, which spurs others to hop on the bandwagon and consciously try to improve their level of safe operation.

The trucking industry is changing. Whether it be through the advancement of technology or otherwise, we face a dramatically different landscape now than we did even five years ago, let alone 10 or 20. It is very likely the landscape in another five years will look drastically different than it does today. Motor carriers must be prepared for any eventuality.

Finding a cost-effective telematics solution that can both increase retention and morale by reducing crashes, fatigue or distraction events could be the game changer that many motor carriers need to set them apart and give them that critical edge in a crowded marketplace.

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