For the last two months I've argued that our ancient hours-of-service regulations don't work and that changing them could damage the industry. So how does trucking get itself out of this lose-lose situation? There is a possible solution, but it requires a high degree of trust and cooperation between fleets and regulators.
A performance-based fatigue management system replaces one-size-fits-all driving limits and restrictions with individual schedules. Instead of judging a fleet's safety commitment by lack of HOS violations, it's judged by a quantifiable decrease in accidents identified with driver fatigue.
For regulators, that might sound like an invitation for fleets to push drivers into around-the-clock sprints across the country. For fleets, it sounds too complex to ever manage cost effectively. But it's already been tried in a pilot program devised by a joint government, shipper and trucking group in Australia. While it did initially increase compliance costs a bit, it did not adversely affect productivity and in fact led to better equipment utilization while improving fatigue-related accident numbers.
Dean Croke has run a trucking company in Australia, served as the head of the Australian Trucking Assn., and worked in the U.S. for Circadian Technologies, a research firm specializing in 24-hr. workplaces. While heading the truck group, he helped launch the fatigue management program (FMP), which gave 30 fleets exemption from logbook regulations and HOS restrictions. Instead, drivers kept diaries and were instructed to sleep when they felt tired and drive when they felt fresh. The fleets also agreed to institute FMPs and to open their records to frequent audits by regulators, which is were the additional cost came in.
Those practices, says Croke, take the focus off daily driving limits and instead look at the individual's overall work cycles, taking into account the different effects on fatigue caused by time of day driving, as well as the lengths and times a driver sleeps, weather, driving conditions and other variables.
While those practices could require a driver get up to four consecutive nights of sleep at the end of a two-week period, the pilot found that drivers continued to average the same number of miles overall and that there was no disruption to cargo movement.
The pilot program was finished last year, and the results are now under review, but Croke believes it will lead to a fatigue management program approach for at least the country's largest fleets.
One way to further increase the effectiveness of FMP is to add “risk-informed” management by introducing simple computer analysis of individual driving records to quickly identify drivers whose work cycles place them most at risk for fatigue-related accidents. Such a program has already been developed by Croke's former employer, Circadian, and is being used effectively by a few fleets. (For more details, see Wendy Leavitt's “Patent Pending” column on page 83.)
Is a performance-based system without cost or potential disruption? No, but if our goal is to truly keep tired drivers off the road, how can we continue to ignore a scientifically sound approach that seems to work? Even if it makes us uncomfortable, the answer is obvious.