Dean Croke is vice-president of Omnitracs Analytics, a business unit of Omnitracs LLC. He is an expert in predictive analytics and human physiology with more than 30 years of experience in risk management and the commercial trucking industry.It was only roughly 18 months ago that the trucking industry transitioned to new hours-of-service (HOS) rules. As fleets migrate to electronic logging devices (ELDs) and advanced planning tools, they are becoming more compliant and productive. However, simply being compliant with HOS regulations is not enough, and it doesn’t always assure that drivers are safe. Current HOS rules are based on some laws of human physiology, but there are points of contention, given the primary aim of the HOS is to prevent accidents due to driver fatigue. What can be said for certain is that to manage driver fatigue, fleets have to go beyond HOS regulations. For example, a driver can fall asleep at the wheel while not having technically violated HOS rules. To truly understand this concept, we must take a look at what fatigue is, how it affects drivers, and what sleep management tools exist to combat driver fatigue. Driver fatigue is a very dangerous condition, with symptoms that can include loss of short-term memory, heavy eyelids, uncontrolled lane departures, inconsistent vehicle speeds, misjudgment of traffic situations, and appearance of illusions. Mental fatigue can also result in headaches, restlessness, irritability, and daydreaming. Early morning hours and the middle of the afternoon are peak times for fatigue-related accidents, and they mostly occur during long trips on monotonous roads. Accidents related to fatigue are often more severe compared with other crashes as the driver’s brain is mostly disconnected from the task of driving at the point of impact. The outcome could be a driving into the median, hitting a guardrail, or at worst a high-speed rear-end collision.
Trouble staying alert during monotonous stretches, irritability, and difficulty concentrating or remembering facts are all indicators that a driver isn’t getting enough good-quality sleep. Drivers cannot function at their required high levels of performance without good quality and quantity sleep. The first thing experts will tell you about sleep is that there is no “magic number” for how many hours a person needs. Not only do different age groups need different amounts of sleep, but sleep needs are also individual. Just like any other characteristics you are born with, the amount of sleep you need to function best may be different for you than for someone else of the same age and gender. While you may be at your absolute best sleeping six hours a night, someone else may need eight hours for optimal function. It’s recommended that drivers get at least two days of nighttime sleep in a seven-day period, regardless of whether or not they reset their hours. This is known as the Omnitracs Analytics “2 in 7 Rule,” and if over-the-road drivers can find two periods of night-sleep back to back and get at least six hours’ continuous sleep every 24 hours, they are better able to cope with stress and demands of over-the-road trucking. In addition to managing sleep with a “2 in 7 Rule,” fleets can also educate drivers on other habits that can impact fatigue levels, including timing of caffeine consumption, eating nutritious meals at appropriate times throughout the day, and strategically timing naps mid-shift. To assist fleet managers and ultimately increase driver safety, Omnitracs Analytics developed an advanced software model that predicts driver fatigue. The fatigue model uses HOS data from electronic logs to predict when drivers are most likely to sleep in their off-duty or sleeper berth duty status. For each driver, it calculates a fatigue score on a scale of 100, with 100 being the most extreme case of fatigue. One of the first fleets to use this fatigue model was C R England. In 2007, before federal mandates, the Salt Lake City UT-based refrigerated carrier created its own HOS policy leveraging Omnitracs’ “2 in 7 Rule” and the science of sleep physiology. C R England’s policy stated that drivers have to get two days of nighttime sleep every seven-day period and at least six hours of sleep every 24 hours to be compliant. The fleet also encourages drivers to take naps in the afternoon as needed. A nap as short as 20 minutes can help refresh the mind, improve overall alertness, boost mood, and increase productivity. Napping may also benefit the heart, and in a six-year study, researchers found that men who took naps at least three times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death. Half of C.R. England’s drivers went through a sleep training program over a six-month period led by Omnitracs Analytics. Drivers also received training videos in the cab through the Omnitracs MCP 200 platform. Drivers whose fatigue-risk levels were being monitored by the Driver Fatigue Model and who also attended a Sleep & Schedule Management class had 7.2 times lower accident severity costs, four times fewer “loss of control” accidents (rollover, sideswipe, jackknife, and left highway), and five times fewer “left highway” accidents. Overall, the accident rollover rate was 72% less than drivers who had not yet been through the Sleep & Schedule Management Program. Furthermore, drivers reported that the training program was “life-altering” and provided a “very valuable tool and technique.” The Omnitracs Analytics fatigue model presents information to its customers through an online management portal called The Driving Center. The main dashboard shows driver fatigue scores, HOS duty status, weekly mileage and pay, critical events, and US Department of Transportation physical and CDL (commercial driver license) renewal dates. Clicking on the driver’s fatigue score opens up more details, like the number of days a driver has worked in succession, how much night or day sleep a driver got in the past seven days, and the number of times they drove for extended periods of time without a break. This constant assessment of sleep data helps fleet managers prevent fatigued driving and extremely dangerous microsleep episodes behind the wheel. Research shows long-haul over-the-road drivers have the lowest level of fatigue-risk and the most options to take adequate rest breaks. However, in contrast, they have the highest probability of high-speed fatigue-related severe events as they tend to sit at the wheel for extended periods of time allowing their brain to disconnect from driving, eventually falling asleep. While it is important to remain HOS-compliant for driver safety, fleets should go beyond HOS regulations and implement a sleep management program that leverages sleep physiology and predictive analytics to help eliminate accidents related to driver fatigue.