The hazard of driver fatigue is complex and multidimensional.
Since 2004, the number of large truck crash injuries per 100 million miles has dropped 25 percent and the truck-involved fatality rate has dropped 22 percent. The fatality rate has dropped 66 percent since the DOT began keeping those records in 1975. The most recent figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) indicate that the truck-involved fatality rate declined 12.3 percent in 2008 to 1.86 per 100 million miles, from 2.12 per 100 million miles in 2007. Persons injured in large truck crashes went from 44.4 per 100 million miles to 39.6, an 11 percent reduction.
There is room for debate, however, as to what factors had most to do with the change. Some attribute it to a change in hours of service rules. Others may point out the decline in truck traffic due to the recession, improved safety features in vehicles, variations in data reporting, etc.
While there is some improvement in accident data, the American Trucking Association has made five suggestions to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to further combat hazards associated with driver fatigue. They are:
(1) Sleep disorder awareness, training and screening. (Raising consciousness of the problem among truck drivers is an extremely important step.)
(2) Promoting the use of fatigue risk management programs. (It has to be in the culture of the trucking companies. I've seen too many tragic cases where the trucking company management absolutely turned a blind eye to hours of service violations and driver fatigue.)
(3) Evaluating the use of fatigue detection devices. (When the driver's eye are drooping and head is nodding, it's time to pull over!)
(4) Increasing the availability of truck parking on important freight corridors. (It's one thing to say a trucker can drive only so many hours, but that driver faces a Catch-22 dilemma when there are no legal places to park when he runs out of hours.)
(5) Partnering with the trucking and shipping communities to develop an educational process that identifies for drivers the location of available truck parking. (Of course!)
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