Thanks to the annual National Transport Accident Research Centre report we can now get a picture of the situation surrounding fatigue by the numbers on a regular basis.
The NTARC released its Major Accident Investigation 2020 Report and Diesel News has obtained the specific fatigue related data to give us a quantifiable figure to go with the anecdotal knowledge on the subject.
Overall, the long term trend is encouraging. The proportion of National Transport Insurances claims over $50,000 deemed to have been caused by fatigue have reduced from 25 per cent 15 years ago to just 10 per cent in the latest report. It is not possible to pin down the cause and effect, but it is clear the wide range of initiatives aimed at reducing the fatigue issue have had some effect.
The bad news is that fatigue is still the single largest cause of incidents where NTI insured truck drivers lose their lives. This number makes up 34.8 per cent of the deaths, and this alongside the related issue of distraction, at 30.4 per cent, makes up over 65 per cent, virtually two-thirds of all truck driver deaths.
The NTARC report points out the need to distinguish between working hours compliance and the fatigue which causes accidents. It discusses the need to develop a safety culture within the trucking industry and throughout any transport operation from the bottom to the top, able to support effective fatigue management decision making.
There are also issues around driver health, overall, to be taken into consideration. These include physical health, mental health, psychological and emotional well-being, sleep disruptions due to poor sleeping conditions and changes in work schedules, shift work and returning to work after leave.
Trucking operators are urged to look for risk factors in the driver group and once they are identified, offer help. Overall, truck driver health is compromised, with little access to good primary health care or to a healthy diet. High rates of obesity occur in the truck driver population, leading to higher than normal rates of conditions like sleep apnoea, which drastically disrupts proper sleep.
NTARC identifies three streams of technology which are now available to mitigate the problems caused by fatigue.
There are systems designed to monitor driver blink rate, which acts as a proxy for alertness. The technologies use different methods to measure blink rate but all are looking for the same parameters to set off any alarm to alert both the driver and operator. Other technologies are using infrared cameras to track where the driver is looking and when the eyes are closed. The other option uses sensors which look at brain activity and assess just how well the driver is fairing in maintaining attention and resisting sleep.
The NTARC fatigue by the numbers reminds us that although this technology will track performance and identify issues, it will not stop the underlying cause of any fatigue incident, namely, poor rest or inadequately managed fatigue. It describes the technological solutions as resembling a reserve parachute in their function.