Programs combating commercial driver fatigue are on the rise from the local level all the way up to the Congressional level. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called out the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for their failure to suitably address this issue and legislative action is expected soon.
There are numerous sad stories of the lives lost to truck driver fatigue or ill-health. In 1999 a bus driver who tested positive for over-the-counter sleep aid medication crashed his vehicle on Interstate 610 near New Orleans. According to witnesses, he slumped down, struck a guardrail, crashed through a chain-link fence, and ramped over a small path before hitting a dirt embankment; 22 of the 43 passengers on board were killed.
In 2000, a trucker with obstructive sleep apnea (a condition the NTSB says gives a predisposition to falling asleep behind the wheel) crashed through median on I-40 hitting two cars in the process, the first was a state highway patrol vehicle and the second a passenger car. The state trooper was killed and the civilian driver seriously injured.
In 2009, a crash killed ten people on the I-44 when a truck driver suffering fatigue collided with a row of cars: an accident the NTSB says could have been avoided. The 77 year old driver suffered from sleep apnea.
In 2004, federal regulators changed driving safety rules to mandate that a trucker can only be on the clock for 14 hours in a 24- hour period and they must rest for at least ten. The American Trucking Association says that since the implementation of this rule, truck-related traffic deaths have dropped by a third. Still, drivers can easily lie about their actual number of hours logged in a given day or how much sleep they've had.
The NTSB has urged freight companies to take the problem of driver fatigue seriously and recommends collision avoidance technology and video recorders be issued to all tractor trailers. Many trucking companies are already battling this issue.
Tulsa, OK trucking company Melton Trucking, for example, is outfitting its trucks with high quality equipment to aid safety and the company says it is keeping drivers in top shape for long-haul driving. It has converted its former smoking lounge into a workout room where drivers can train with a certified wellness coordinator. Tests on sleep apnea are being run right along with general physical exams to keep track of drivers health and fitness.
Some of the technology on board Melton Trucking's vehicles is brand new. It tracks how much time drivers spend behind the wheel, a system that is expected to be more informative than the paper log that drivers currently use to track their work hours. Other technology alerts drivers when they veer out of their lanes.
"Our most precious commodity are our truck drivers. They're our business. If they're a healthy bunch, it's better for our company and for the public as well," said Russ Elliott, Melton Trucking Senior Vice President of Operations. "(A)ll of the initiatives that we've taken as an industry and definitely as a company that we're headed in the right direction," Elliott said.