A Federal investigation has confirmed what many had already predicted—the multi-vehicle accident involving 21 people that killed comedian James McNair, and seriously injured actor/comedian Tracy Morgan in 2014 was caused by a dangerously fatigued driver. The man driving the Walmart truck that triggered the accident was not only nearing the end of his 14-hour shift, but he had completed an 800-mile commute to get to work the day before. As a result, he had been awake at the time of the accident for over 28 hours.
Hours of service (HOS) regulations exist to maintain a manageable and healthy working schedule for drivers with appropriate rest hours, in part, to keep exhausted drivers off the road and prevent dangerous driving habits. However, the primary issue in the Walmart case was the driver’s behavior before he got behind the wheel of the truck for work. HOS rules cannot oversee what drivers do when off-duty.
This tragic and very public accident has spurred serious discussion at a national level about driver fatigue. It has influenced carriers to better train and coach their drivers about health and safety.
There are measures carriers can take to ensure drivers do not become fatigued while working and that they are fit to work at the beginning of their shift. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) finish its work evaluating fatigue-monitoring technologies and other integrated onboard safety systems. Carriers can also educate their drivers on the importance of adequate rest.
Furthermore, individual carriers can incorporate GPS tracking software to help foster a culture of safety among their drivers. Teletrac’s Safety Analytics feature makes it easy to identify which drivers are consistently practicing safe driving habits, and which drivers need additional training. The combination of focused training where needed and recognition for those who do well gives drivers a reason to prioritize safety in their work. The ability to record the details of problematic events not only makes a great training tool, it also gives fleet managers insight into their driver’s behavior on an individual basis. By drilling down to specific metrics, fleet managers can identify which drivers need additional training, or disciplinary action.
Chronic fatigue can also cause serious health concerns for drivers, especially since driving long distances can be a physically demanding exercise all by itself. While carriers cannot oversee their employees during their hours off-duty, they can educate their drivers on how to take better care of themselves and identify signals of tired behavior before they get on the road. By preventing fatigued drivers from getting behind the wheel, our roads can be more safe for both the driver and the general public.