Just a few years ago, most of what a safety professional had to go on when performing post-crash investigations involved looking at physical evidence at the scene (skid marks, damaged property, etc.), statistics from the truck (like ECM data), police reports and witness statements including the account from the driver. You were very lucky if you could nab some video from a nearby convenience store or bank ATM machine to show you some limited physical characteristics of the crash.
Conclusions from the event were all based on a review and analysis of this evidence. You had make a final decision based on your belief in that data, even though it may only give a limited picture of what was going on.
Working in the transportation industry for over 22 years and reviewing thousands of accidents as part of my duties, I can say that there were very few times that someone would mention falling asleep behind the wheel or “zoning out” while operating equipment. Many of my drivers would say that fighting through fatigue was part of the job, so they often felt it was a sign of weakness to admit being tired. Instead, the reasons often given for a crash (like leaving the roadway, roll over, or other loss of control accidents) were often attributed to actions taken to avoid an animal darting in front of a vehicle, a rogue motorist who encroached into the truck’s lane, or other similar accounts to try and explain a crash.
Even though there have been extensive studies on the solid causal relationship between fatigue and crash frequency, many of my safety colleagues and I would often conclude that there wasn’t much practical evidence that fatigue played a significant role in causes of crashes on the road because we weren’t seeing it in the limited evidence resources of our crash investigations.
This opinion within the industry has changed dramatically in the last couple of years with the growing and wide spread use of video technology in commercial motor vehicles (CMV) today. Much of this change in opinion has come from the footage reviewed from these devices, either from a triggered critical event (like following too close, hard braking, speeding, etc.) or from a crash.
One need only look at some of the key supplier websites in this space (SmartDrive, DriveCam, etc.) to see several examples of drivers falling asleep behind the wheel. The reasons vary widely, as do the complicated factors that often follow a crash investigation outcome. Certainly, scheduling challenges, untreated sleep dysfunction (like Obstructive Sleep Apnea), time off management, lane traffic congestion and many other issues affect the fatigue level of CMV drivers.
So, what do you do when you observe your driver nodding off or falling asleep behind the wheel in a video clip?
As technology opens our eyes to the higher frequency of fatigue and its affect on the real root causes of crashes on the road, our jobs as safety professionals are to proactively identify these risks through critical events that come from the cameras, review these observations with our drivers and management, and find respectful and effective proactive methods for addressing these issues before a crash occurs.
Seeing is believing, but turning this belief into action is the real measure of a great safety culture.