The Fatigue Fight: Fleets can use apnea tests, trip plans to help fight driver fatigue

4 minute read

Everyone knows that truck drivers are expected to track their activities during every waking hour. Even the downtime needs to be carefully recorded in logbooks, ensuring that every line is in the right place.

Proactive fleets look well beyond this administrative function, embracing the strategies which truly tackle fatigue.

Praxair, for example, is among the fleets that are already screening drivers who face a high risk of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), even though the U.S. has yet to finalize plans for mandated screening programs. In addition to that, the fleet offers workshops about better napping habits and how to manage sleep debt.

They aren’t the only ways that fleets can help battle fatigue.

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Fleet operations teams that search for a little more information can help drivers establish detailed trip plans which create a better balance between customer demands, hours of service regulations and the need to rest.

But that process needs to involve drivers and dispatchers alike. A driver who is told to return to a fleet yard “as soon as possible” after delivering a load may assume he is being told to make the trip at all costs – even if that means bending hours of service rules or driving when fatigued. Clearly stated company policies can tell him otherwise. Meanwhile, a dispatcher who assumes that an experienced driver will recognize an approaching limit on driving time may forget that the driver’s last training session was based on an old version of the regulations. Specific information will leave nothing to chance.

Ongoing conversations can also help to uncover bad habits like the extended coffee breaks or delayed departures that conspire against the most reasonable delivery schedules.

Consider the length of every lunch break as an example. Hours of service rules clearly define minimum rest periods, but drivers are responsible for deciding how long a break might last. Someone who chooses to spend three hours at a truck stop might technically be leaving enough time to reach a destination, but they may also be consuming the time that was built into the schedule to offset unexpected traffic jams, delays relating to road construction, bad weather, or the need for an extended rest when someone feels truly fatigued.

Suggestions about specific departure times can make a difference, too.

A trucker who tries to cross the Canada-U.S. border when there is less than an hour of available driving time could certainly be squeezed into an hours of service violation if there is an unexpected delay.

And any hopes of staying at a particular truck stop will involve looking beyond the hours it will take to reach the destination, considering the time of day when the related parking spaces tend to be filled. Otherwise, the off-duty time may need to be spent on the shoulder of a road, far away from the environment that can ensure a more restful sleep.

Dispatchers who are informed about ongoing construction delays, collisions, or other time-crunching factors will even be able to share the details with other drivers in the fleet, and plan future routes accordingly.

Of course, shippers and receivers have a role in the trip planning process as well. Operations personnel who commit to working with their customers can often address a number of challenges, ensuring that freight continues to arrive safely and on time.

Yes, this may be the era of just-in-time deliveries, but there is no secret that delays continue to be a fact of life. A few small changes can make a big difference in the impact that these delays can have at any loading dock.

Drivers are often expected to sit close to a radio during any delay, waiting for instructions on when to head to the next available loading bay. Receivers who become true partners in a trip planning process might be able to find a way to allow delayed drivers to climb into the sleeper for a defined period of time, creating an opportunity for some real rest. And clear directions to secure parking areas could certainly offer a better alternative to situations in which drivers are told to move their equipment when the lines of a logbook dictate that it is time to park for a rest.

Trucking is a business, and freight must continue to move. Refined schedules or delivery procedures can also require changes to a corporate culture. But those who embrace the idea of trip planning will be able to help ensure that freight is protected, drivers are rested, and every highway becomes a little safer.