The hours of service rules are hot news right now, with possible changes pending in a rewrite that's due before the end of the year.
But there's a movement brewing to take on the issue of driver fatigue in a more comprehensive way.

A coalition of Canadian, U.S., and Mexican trucking interests are developing a model program to provide carriers with a best-practices manual for implementing fatigue management in their operations.

The North American Fatigue Management Program has been in the works for several years and is scheduled to be ready for industry use in about a year, said Roger Clarke, executive director of Vehicle Safety and Carrier Services for Alberta, Canada.

Meanwhile, the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, a group of 20 representatives from industry, the enforcement community and labor and safety advocacy groups that provides advice to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, will deliver its recommendations on fatigue management to FMCSA in December.

What Fleets Are Doing

A number of fleets have either committed to or are considering fatigue management efforts ranging from comprehensive programs to specific steps such as sleep disorder screening.

Dupr Logistics of Lafayette, La., for example, has revamped its operations to incorporate fatigue management principles - and reaped an 82 percent improvement in its accident rate as a result.

"Fatigue management could play a big role in improving safety," said Dave Osiecki, senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs at American Trucking Associations. "The membership of ATA feels strongly that there should be a fatigue management component to any discussion of fatigue."

The hours of service rules provide "lowest common denominator" guidelines for allaying fatigue, Osiecki said. Fatigue management programs, which encompass all aspects of carrier operations, from driver health, scheduling and sleep disorders to education, family counseling and in-vehicle technologies, are designed to address the underlying causes of this risk factor.

Estimates of fatigue as a factor in truck crashes range from 50 percent by the National Transportation Safety Board to 4.5 percent by the Large Truck Crash Causation Study. Much of the variance arises from differing ways of framing the issue, but Clarke and most truck safety experts agree that fatigue is a significant problem for drivers.

FMCSA sees fatigue management as an extra layer of safety on top of the minimum hours of service requirements, said Deborah Freund, senior transportation specialist at the agency. It is not a substitute for compliance with the hours rules, she said, although the agency may in some cases grant exemptions for portions of the rule in order to test a fatigue management program.

The North American Program

Roger Clarke of Alberta Transportation is a key member of the international team charged with constructing the North American Fatigue Management Program.

"If we keep doing the same thing, the only dips (in accident numbers) we're going to get is when there is less trucking activity," he said in an interview.

"If we want to make a change, we have to make some quantum leaps every once in a while," he said. "I think this is one of them. Fatigue management beats the heck out of the hours of service rule. For people who really do this, it's redundant to have other ways of managing fatigue."

The North American Fatigue Management Program is being developed by Canadian transportation organizations, including Alberta Transportation and Transport Canada, with support from U.S. organizations such as FMCSA, ATA and its research arm, the American Transportation Research Institute. Pilot tests of the program involved volunteer drivers from Challenger Motor Freight, Con-way Express and J.B. Hunt.

The pilot tests showed that a fitness management program can offer a range of safety improvements, Clarke said. It can improve drivers' awareness of good sleep practices, reduce fatigue and improve psychomotor performance, and can reduce the incidence of near-accidents, he said. The pilot also found that the sleep disorder screening element of a fatigue management program can help reduce fatigue and improve the quality of a driver's sleep.

Now that the pilot testing is done, the next step is to finish preparing the program and then post it on a website for all carriers to use, Clarke said.

ATRI, which is on the steering committee for the program, is now assessing proposals to design and develop the guidelines, materials and tools that will go on the website, said Rebecca Brewster, president and COO of the institute.

Clarke stressed that the materials on the website will be accessible to carriers of all sizes and capabilities. "It will have all the educational materials, protocols and directions for carriers on everything from scheduling to sleep apnea screening and testing," he said.

"It will include guidance for how a carrier can implement a program, depending on its ability and its size. They can take one module at a time or they can implement the whole program. The request for proposals says specifically, 'Don't build this so that you have to have 1,000 trucks.' It needs to be built so it's understood and can be implemented by a guy who's got three trucks."

Next Steps

The Canadian organizations have taken the lead on the program so far, but Clarke is hoping that a separate administrative entity will emerge once the development work is done.

"The regulatory and trucking communities have to take an interest and look for a natural home for the program," he said. "Someone needs to pick up the banner after implementation."

That effort should include creation of a certification process for fatigue management, similar to the way the International Standards Organization certifies management processes, he said.

Clarke also said that Alberta plans to consider offering incentives to carriers that implement fatigue management. "Carriers will need the ability to recoup their costs, which would be aided by changes in the hours of service rules as long as they are providing an equivalent level of safety," he said. "That will help deployment immensely."

Osiecki of ATA also expressed interest in the idea of regulatory incentives.

He cited the approach taken by regulatory agencies in Australia, which offer carriers three approaches. Those that have no fatigue management program must observe the hours rules as they are. Those that practice basic fatigue management get the option of more flexible work hours. And those that implement an advanced fatigue management program create their own hours rules linked to an accreditation system.

The advanced program would be hard to do, at least initially, he said. "It sets a high bar and would require a cultural change both in the industry and at the carrier level."

But the graduated approach makes sense, he said. "Not every carrier will have to take that advanced approach. You have to walk before you can run. To implement a basic fatigue management program would not require as great a cultural shift."

"I would encourage FMCSA to look seriously at it," Osiecki said.

From the November 2010 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking magazine.

About the author
Oliver Patton

Oliver Patton

Former Washington Editor

Truck journalist 36 years, who joined Heavy Duty Trucking in 1998 and has retired. He was the trucking press’ leading authority on legislative and regulatory affairs.

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