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How truck drivers use technology to avoid fatigue-based accidents

Truck drivers must adhere to work time rules for their own safety and other road users’ safety. Work time rules ensure that drivers take regular breaks and don’t endlessly work. 50 years ago, drivers would drive 15-20 hours straight, get a few hours’ sleep, then repeat the journey. That’s no longer acceptable. Health and safety concerns have driven a raft of legislation to reduce fatigue behind the wheel so that drivers don’t fall asleep while driving.

tired truck driver

Some countries use tachographs to monitor work time, and others use logbooks, either paper or electronic. There are specific requirements for the minimum amount of information included in a logbook record to make it legal. If a police officer asks to see a logbook, the driver must supply it immediately (i.e., it must be in the truck and up-to-date). If there are any minor errors or omissions, the police officer has discretion whether or not to fine the driver or make waiving a fine contingent on them doing a police-recommended logbook diversion course.

Demerit points may accompany a fine on a driver’s license, which, in some cases, could mean that the driver would be disqualified. Hence, a logbook diversion course is a win-win – the driver learns how to fill out the logbook properly while avoiding the financial hardship that a disqualification period of one-to-six months could bring.

In the case of serious offending, police are less likely to take a lenient approach. In fact, every year in New Zealand alone, there are well over 2000 fines issued for incorrectly filled out logbooks.

While electronic logbooks are a lot easier to keep accurate, many drivers still use paper logbooks which are in triplicate: the top white sheet is where the driver writes the info, the second yellow sheet is detached and goes to the employer within 14 days, and the bottom pink sheet is only detached if a police officer requests it. Failure to produce a police officer logbook means a fine of $500 and 35 demerit points.

The law states that a driver must only keep one logbook. Some drivers try to cheat the system by keeping two logbooks or by not filling in logbooks accurately. Police can often spot these discrepancies by using common sense: where has the driver driven from and is the time on the road realistic in terms of the distance claimed, and has any admin and loading time been included.

Logbook training is included when drivers do their initial truck training, but many truck drivers don’t require a driver to keep a logbook. For example, if the truck is small and only used within 50km of its operations base. Logbooks must be kept for larger heavy rigid and combination trucks, though, so as a driver moves up through the ranks, they may find that their logbook training was several years ago and they’ve forgotten what to do. Not many trucking companies provide logbook training internally. They expect the driver to arrive already being competent. This puts the driver at risk of being pulled over by the police and having to do a diversion course to avoid the fine and demerit points.

Once the course is complete, the certificate must be emailed or otherwise shown to the police officer who issued the diversion to get the fine and/or demerit points waived. 

There are some defences to logbook offences. The legislation allows leniency in the case that “the defendant took reasonable steps to prevent the false statement or material omission in the logbook; and as soon as reasonably practicable after the false statement or material omission was drawn to the person’s attention by any enforcement officer authorised to demand the production of logbooks under section 30ZH(2), the person produced to the enforcement officer a logbook containing no false statement or material omission.”

Technology to help alleviate driver fatigue

Cameras that detect when a driver is about to fall asleep sound an alarm to warn a driver to take a break. This measure the blink rate, eye closure duration, and head position.

Timers can be automatically set to remind drivers to rest; some vehicles come with these built-in.

Smart scheduling by dispatchers can help drivers minimise their journey time and avoid roads that might be mentally or physically challenging. There are plenty of software packages that solve the travelling salesman problem.

In-cab technology to help a driver sleep in a sleeper cab can help a driver suffer fewer disturbances while resting in the cab, i.e., during scheduled breaks or when a driver must sleep in the cab. These include heating and air conditioning systems that don’t rely on the engine running.

For drivers who suffer from sleep apnoea, portable CPAP machines are available to provide positive airway pressure and reduce incidences where drivers stop breathing during sleep.

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