SPECIAL REPORT: Fatigue program tests put to rest

CALGARY — As safety groups and trucking lobbyists continue to battle over hours-of-service regulations, a separate group has quietly been working on a new approach to battling driver fatigue and the results are finally in.

Launched about a decade ago, the North American Fatigue Management Program (FMP) wrapped up its third phase of testing and the details are expected to be published this month, todaystrucking.com has learned.

Roger Clarke, executive director of vehicle safety and carrier services with Alberta Transportation, says the last version of the report didn’t require many changes and should be accepted by Transport Canada as is.

The FMP was launched in Alberta at the start of the millennium, but included participants in eastern Canada and the U.S.

The project was designed to determine when truckers should be driving or whether they need to pull over, based on personal differences involving health issues, a driver’s circadian rhythm, his scheduling, and lifestyle variances.

"It’s a way to ensure professional drivers don’t fall asleep at the wheel; basically that’s what hours-of-service is — fatigue management," noted Clarke. "It’s not just (about) one thing and that’s why it’s comprehensive."

Phase three of the FMP began in 2007 and was operated in three different regions by three different carriers: ECL in Alberta, Robert Transport in Quebec, and J.B. Hunt in California.

In total, 77 drivers participated in the project and following sleep screening results, 71 percent were diagnosed with sleep apnea — 39 percent with a moderate to severe case.

One of the conclusions of the FMP is that during driver on-duty days participants had more sleep during the "main sleep period," improved sleep quality, less reported fatigue and fewer reported critical events, but more PVT minor lapses.

For carriers, the FMP lead to improved knowledge, perceived effort and experience, regarding fatigue management. As well, in Quebec, drivers experienced a reduction in crashes and convictions, and a reduced number of sick days.

With positive results in the books, the roll out of the program is up next. Procedures for carriers to implement an FMP will be developed, along with training materials, medical health protocols, and a business case for carriers.

"Carriers will have to do their own math to see if it makes sense for them," says Clarke. "It will all be up on a website for everyone to view, and any carrier that wants to use it can use it."

It could be a year before the final product is finished, but when it is produced, Clarke insists it’s not meant to replace current HoS regulations. The FMP, in fact, was conducted within the current HoS regulations in mind, so the two can mutually coincide.

"It was developed as a voluntary program," says Clarke. "It’s not a regulatory thing, but it’s a smart thing."
 

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