Safety & Compliance

FMCSA Testing Driver Monitoring Systems

June 29, 2011

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is taking a close look at whether onboard driver monitoring systems are an effective way to improve safety.

The agency is mid-way through a multi-year research project designed to measure how well drivers respond to feedback from systems that track lane departures, impending collisions and fatigue, among other indicators. The research also will produce the largest continuous collection of naturalistic driving data ever undertaken,
said Olu Ajayi, a research statistician at the agency, in an article describing the effort.

It is not clear at this point what the agency might do with the information it gets from this study. Nothing in the record indicates it intends to write a rule concerning such technologies, and in any case it will be at least two years before the research produces any insights.

The Technology

In the study, 270 trucks from three volunteer carriers will be equipped with an onboard monitoring system, DriveVision Pro by Transecurity. The system integrates safety technologies such as forward collision and lane departure warning with driver observation systems designed to detect fatigue or inattention, and provides immediate feedback if the truck is at risk. Data from the device also is fed into a management information system to help with driver coaching.

Transecurity is a commercial spin-off from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which conducts safety research for a number of clients, including FMCSA. It was created in 2006 by a team led by VTTI director Thomas Dingus.

Ajayi said in an interview that researchers will use the system to establish a baseline of the drivers' performance without any intervention, and then compare that to their performance while the system is responding. In a subsequent stage the researchers will see if any improvement can be sustained without the system responding.

Specifically, the study is intended to determine if driver performance improves with feedback from the system, and the comparative effectiveness of immediate versus management feedback. Researchers also want to know if they can use the system to determine a driver's risk potential.
Other goals are to see if any driver improvements can be sustained over time, and to gauge driver reaction to the system.

Potential Negatives

An inkling of what some drivers will say came from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which said in comments to the agency that there are significant negatives attached to this kind of system.

Onboard monitoring systems can penalize drivers for defensive maneuvers, and they can be distracting, the association said.

On the other hand, the carriers that already use these kinds of systems have found significant benefits. C.R. England, for example, uses lane departure, forward collision and headway warning, as well as a stability control system that president Chad England described as "the biggest winner in safety technology as far as I am concerned."

At this point, the agency is preparing to gather information from the drivers who will participate in the 18-month field test. The agency last week asked for comments on this phase of the project (June 24 Federal Register). The study is scheduled to be completed by August 2013.

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