There is a lot of talk about how a technological solution to fatigue is both possible and effective. There is also a very large group of people in the industry who will resist any attempt to mandate any such technology.
Here we have a classic stand-off between the modernising forces who see a technical solution which will be mandated by law to be the way to overcome a problem, and the more traditional trucking industry, which is all about self-reliance and finding a custom self-generated solution which suits them better.
We have seen these sorts of debates play out over and over again in the recent history of trucking. Manual gearboxes and automated manual transmissions, ABS or not, logbooks and electronic work diaries, safe-t-cam vs driver managed fatigue, cruise control, etc etc, the list goes on.
There are some basic facts at play here. The issues of fatigue and distraction are a problem within trucking, and would probably be the main cause of fatalities on the road in trucking, if it wasn’t for all of the other vehicles on the road, who actually cause the vast majority of fatal accidents involving trucks.
Fatigue is something we have known about and debated for quite some time. Genuinely smart fatigue management is something which started to come into its own in the nineties. Solutions were developed which were flexible and solved issues.
Since then we have seen a series of fatigue management reviews where the fatigue experts set out acceptable parameters and the trucking industry pushes for a regime with enough flexibility to get the task done efficiently.
This has led to a series of to and fro arguments and a fatigue management regime which no-one is happy with, where everyone has had to compromise. However, fatigue related incidents continue to occur.
In more recent years the problem of distraction has emerged and created a whole new set of problems, and a danger to everyone on our highways.The advent of smart phones has brought us so many positives, but also created a massive problem for safety on our roads.
Anecdotal evidence tells us that distraction is becoming a much bigger issue than fatigue. We have been working at fatigue for a lot longer and a series of compromises have brought us to a position of a sort of consensus. No-one is totally happy with the situation, but it’s not too bad.
When it comes to distraction, the issue is relatively new and causing accidents and deaths. The call is for a solution now, and the suppliers of systems developed to help with fatigue management are adapting the technology to detect distraction incidents.
Here is where the schism is likely to happen. Evidence is piling up that the technology does detect distraction and is helping to make truck drivers safer. This tells us that the pressure will be on to mandate these in truck cabs, or transport contracts will stipulate the systems’ use.
On the other hand, there is a population of drivers who are expected to work on their own initiative most of the time, who are going to have big brother in the cabin watching them all of the time. There is going to be a lot of friction around the issue and dissatisfaction among drivers, in the middle of a driver shortage.
A long term compromise, like we have on fatigue, could be worked out, where all of the parties are somewhat satisfied. However, the necessity to do something quickly is more likely to lead to a situation where either the distraction detection lobby, or traditional trucking folk are going to feel disenfranchised and ignored. This is a recipe for disaster, we need to bring everyone along, it just takes a bit more compromise and a bit less black and white thinking.