Many factors influence truck safety

by Bruce Richards

Fatigue management hit the news again in July with the release of the well-researched North American Fatigue Management Program. If you haven’t read the press on this, the program was developed over a 10-year period by researchers and carriers in Canada and the US.

It is a voluntary, web-based educational and training program that provides an extensive array of information and tools on the subject. It deals with the factors contributing to fatigue, guidance on health and wellness, time management, scheduling, and strategies to mitigate fatigue.

And, best of all possible news, the program is free to all. Visit or for the French version and get started.

There are plenty of factors involved when it comes to truck safety. The fatigue management program deserves to be part of the discussion as one piece of a growing body of knowledge on the non-mechanical aspects of truck safety – those that focus on drivers. Another is the CCMTA’s report on the human factors involved, which I’ve written about previously.

Pierre Thiffault chaired the Task Force that delivered that report and he presented the findings and recommendations at PMTC’s recent annual conference.

The report states that significant driver behaviour issues are at fault in up to 90% of commercial motor vehicle crashes. These include recognition and decision errors. Recognition errors include inattention due to fatigue or distraction; and decision errors include a long list of high-risk behaviours.

Addressing fatigue, it is the Task Force’s belief that hours-of-service regulations on their own are not enough to prevent fatigue-related crashes. Truck drivers who recognize that fatigue is setting in may continue to drive for a variety of reasons (as do automobile drivers, by the way). Understanding the motivation to continue driving while drowsy is important if the problem is to be fully addressed.

The decision to continue driving while fatigued can be influenced by any of a wide variety of factors, including compensation practices, company policies, dispatcher instructions, and shipper’s needs to name a few. The factors that influence the drive/don’t drive decision demand further examination, because even though company policies and regulations may dictate rest periods and safety-first approaches to fatigue, these may be overridden in the driver’s mind by other ‘more important’ needs.

While we certainly agree that training in fatigue management techniques is critical, equally we see the need to address distracted driving, going well beyond a simple ban on hand-held communication devices. Most of us, let’s be honest, do all sorts of things while driving that take our attention away from the road.

Among other things while in our personal vehicles, we may fiddle with the radio, move the seat around, eat or drink, adjust the temperature, and talk – either on the telephone (including using hands-free devices) or to passengers.

Commercial motor vehicle drivers have all the same distractions as those of the average commuter, but they also deal with in-vehicle technologies unique to trucking and the potential those devices have for pulling the driver’s attention away from the primary job. The CCMTA report recommended research into how these systems should be used or not used while the vehicle is in motion.

In examining decision errors as a cause of collisions, the CCMTA report stated that risky driver behaviour should be given priority as a topic of study. This point was underscored during the recent PMTC conference where some tools for identifying high-risk drivers were discussed.

The importance of identifying these drivers can’t be overstated, since estimates indicate that there is a 33% chance that any given hire will exhibit high-risk behaviour at some point. The presentation by Scott Creighton of Northbridge Insurance described a practical methodology for tracking driver behaviour and making any required adjustments to that behaviour before a problem occurs.

Some of the identified and better known factors in motor vehicle collisions include fatigue, distraction, poor decision-making, and high risk behaviour. But there is one other factor that needs to be included in the mix. That is the individual driver’s attentional and interpersonal style.

Some time back, PMTC worked with MBA Consulting to assess a number of drivers who had been inducted into the PMTC-Huron Services Hall of Fame for Professional Drivers. The assessment revealed that each of these drivers had as many as eight characteristics in common. This information needs to be included in the body of work when we discuss truck safety and hiring practices. It’s no coincidence that hall of fame drivers share these characteristics.

Imagine the possibilities if we could pull together all of the information generated by these various studies and use it to develop some comprehensive strategies to help our drivers and fleet operators. We might be able to remove the temptation to drive while drowsy, cut down on distractions in the cab, avoid hiring (or retaining) high-risk drivers, and hire drivers with Hall of Fame characteristics.

Put it all together with the safety technology included with today’s trucks and we just might be looking at a brand new world of truck safety.

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