For Hitrans the subject of fatigue monitoring has become a high priority and it is now keeping an eye on eye movements. As a large national fleet trucks criss-crossing the country in large numbers, the company has trialled and is now fitting Guardian by Seeing Machines systems in all of its trucks. Monitoring behaviour with face and eye tracking, algorithms measure the driver’s head position and eye closure and, when safety parameters are exceeded, audio alarms and powerful seat vibrations are immediately activated.
“We put the Seeing Machines system in one of our trucks for the first time in March of this year,” says Tony Mellick, Hi-Trans Express CEO. “After running a trial with it we have decided to roll it out across our whole fleet.
“The main reasons for using it are threefold. One, is a recognition that fatigue is a major contributor to fatalities and accidents in the heavy transport sector.
“Another is the fact that the system also manages distraction and that’s kind of the unknown piece. If we look at the number of alerts we get, for every one fatigue, there will be three distraction events. It’s everything from looking out of the window, readjusting your hat and then, to the nth degree, looking at your mobile phone.
“A third strand is looking at health issues. If we can get an early indicator for things like sleep apnoea and other things, which are a precursor to micro-sleeping, we see it as a positive thing.”
The initial trial was over 13 units fitted into Hi-Trans prime movers. It became evident quite early in the trial that the system was going to provide good value to the fleet. To begin with some of the things they found out about their drivers was a little confronting.
“There’s almost that ‘come to Jesus’ moment when they see they were asleep and veering into the bush, then they got the jolt in the seat which woke them up and probably saved their lives,” says Tony. “On a very small sample, I would say, already, has it saved accidents and would that have saved life? Probably yes. I would fully support systems like this being standard on all trucks going forward.”
When alerts occur the first port of call is the Seeing Machines call centre, which looks at whether there genuinely was a fatigue event or whether it was a distraction event. They will then call someone at Hi-Trans who will review the event and then make the decision as to whether to call the driver to discuss the issue, or to call them and tell them to pull over and rest.
“We monitor it in real time proactively,” says Tony. “There’s a review process where one of our operations leaders will review the fatigue events of last night and then, if warranted, have some discussions with drivers around distraction behaviour.
The units which are keeping an eye on eye movements are now fitted in all of the company owned trucks, but Hi-Trans are now considering including Seeing Machines in the discussions with the operation’s contract fleet. It could well become a standard piece of kit that contractors are required to fit.
“Either of two things can happen,” says Tony. “With the individual owner driver, we would monitor them as though they were an employee. The fleet operators would be able to monitor their own fleets, but as part of the arrangement, they would report back about their own proactive steps.”
Since introducing the techchnology which is keeping an eye on eye movements, the company has identified some drivers who have sleep apnoea, who didn’t know it themselves. In fact, drivers are in denial about having micro-sleeps until they are shown the footage of themselves having one.
“The average age of drivers is now north of fifty and getting older,” says Tony. “The lifestyle is sedentary. You have all of the health factors which lead to problems. Anything we can do to improve health and safety and/ or be a proactive way of managing a lead indicator of underlying conditions, is a positive thing.”
“Just looking at it selfishly, if we could save a rollover, which can cost you a half a million dollars, this system is really cheap. The initial outlay, plus some ongoing monitoring costs to have a piece of technology that does the job, is a no-brainer.”