As a consequence of a fatal bus crash last year, the National Transportation Safety Board is urging the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to be more assertive in monitoring fatigue management programs.

The crash at 4:55 a.m. on May 31, 2011, happened because the driver fell asleep, the Board found. The Sky Express bus, northbound on I-95 in Virginia, drifted across the road, struck a cable barrier and flipped. Four passengers were crushed to death, and 14 were seriously injured.

The Board found that the driver was suffering from acute sleep loss, poor sleep quality and disruption of his circadian rhythm.

"Sky Express's failure to exercise even minimal oversight of its drivers' rest and sleep activities enabled the drivers to drive while dangerously fatigued," the Board said.

Among the remedies the Board wants is for FMCSA to establish a program to monitor and improve the fatigue management systems that carriers use.

This follows on an existing Board recommendation that all carriers have a fatigue management program.

The Board also wants new-entrant safety audits to include a review of a structured safety management process so the new carriers will know how to identify safety risks and maintain a safety assurance program.

"Sky Express passed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration new entrant safety assurance audit despite safety shortcomings in its operation, which indicates the new entrant audit process is not always keeping unsafe carriers from entering the motor carrier industry," the Board said.

North American Fatigue Management Program

In addition, the Board urged the agency to incorporate fatigue mitigation strategies into the hours of service rules for bus drivers who work at night.

In its recommendations the Board referenced a joint FMCSA-Transport Canada project to develop a model fatigue management program.

The North American Fatigue Management Program, as it is called, aims to provide carriers with a best-practices manual for implementing fatigue management in their operations.

It has been in the works for several years and now is nearing completion, said Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of the American Transportation Research Institute. ATRI, the research arm of American Trucking Associations, is on the project's steering committee.

Brewster said the project expects to launch a website by November that will provide program materials at no charge. The materials, which will include training for drivers, dispatchers and management, have been developed and tested by carriers in the U.S. and Canada.