CMV Driver Fatigue and Crash Risk – More Research Needed to Establish the Connection

by | Published on May 25, 2016 | News

Thousands of large commercial motor vehicles ply the nation’s roadways on a daily basis covering thousands of miles. The FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) “develops and enforces data-driven regulations that balance motor carrier safety with efficiency” in order to reduce crashes, and the resulting injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. However, accidents do occur, leading to injury and personal injury cases that involve comprehensive medical record review and other processes to determine the nature and extent of injury and the damage caused.

FMCSA statistics shows that 3, 744 large trucks were involved in fatal crashes, 88,000 were involved in injury crashes and 346,000 were involved in property damage only crashes in 2014. Following are some of the other details:

  • 5% of the drivers were 25 years old or younger; 15% were 66 years old or older.
  • 2% of all the drivers of large trucks involved in fatal crashes were female.
  • 9% of the drivers were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.
  • At least one driver-related factor was attributed for 34% of the crashes. This factor includes “speeding of any kind” (which is the most frequent factor), and “distraction/inattention.”
  • There were 657 large truck occupant fatalities, and 90% of this comprised drivers of large trucks and 10% were passengers in large trucks.

Overworked or fatigued drivers cause accidents and the FMCSA does have regulations and strict guidelines regarding how much and how often a driver may work, though these are often overlooked. If the commercial truck driver causes an accident, the driver and the company may be held liable for damages. It must be proved that the truck driver failed to use reasonable care in operating the truck, such as speeding or driving while tired; that the driver owed the injured party a duty to operate the truck properly so as to avoid injury to others; and that the driver’s actions caused another driver to suffer injuries or property damage.

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says that insufficient sleep can reduce a CMV driver’s level of alertness, and increase the risk of a crash. However, little is known about effective ways to minimize that risk. Factors such as — the difficulty of estimating driver fatigue objectively, invasive nature of capturing measures of the quality and amount of drivers’ sleep, and many factors that contribute to crashes but are unrelated to inadequate sleep – make any research on the association among hours of service, fatigue and accident frequency for CMV operators very challenging.

Economic pressures and irregular schedules are factors that stress out CMV drivers and place them at the risk of inadequate sleep as well as other chronic health issues such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and obstructive sleep apnea among others. The report points out that there is no biological substitute for sufficient sleep and the only way to lessen driver fatigue is to obtain adequate quantity and quality of sleep. The researchers recommend that:

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and/or the U.S. Department of Transportation should design, fund, and conduct an ongoing survey that will allow longitudinal comparisons of CMV drivers. This will help to track changes in their health status as well as the factors possibly associated with those changes over time.
  • The collected data should be linked with the relevant electronic health records.
  • FMCSA should provide incentives for independent trucking associations, insurance companies and large fleets that capture driver performance data.
  • The data should be kept confidential through measures such as restricted access or use of statistical techniques for disclosure protection.
  • Statistical design and analysis methods must be implemented to account for factors that confound comparisons between control and treatment groups in crash studies.

The FMCSA supervises medical examinations held every two years through the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners, which certify that CMV drivers are fit to drive and also to evaluate the risk of chronic impairment or sudden inability to perform due to specific medical conditions or treatments. However, evidence is limited on the effectiveness of these examinations to identify drivers who are at risk of excessive fatigue on account of medical reasons. The FMCSA’s online program, North American Fatigue Management Program (NAFMP) provides valuable education to drivers and their employers regarding the causes of driver fatigue, the increased risk of crashes due to it, and the long-term health consequences. Countermeasures are suggested to manage driver fatigue. It is not clear whether drivers and their employers make good use of this program. Almost three decades of research has been conducted on technological innovations that can detect driver fatigue in real time. These include lane deviation and eyelid tracking systems, varying levels of automation and collision warning systems. However, operational strategies for their use are still hovering in the early phases of understanding and deployment.

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