Off the clock: An hours of service alternative

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Updated May 1, 2016
In-cab cameras, such as this Guardian system, and other emerging technologies have potential for fatigue measurement, and could eventually lead to radical hours of service changes.In-cab cameras, such as this Guardian system, and other emerging technologies have potential for fatigue measurement, and could eventually lead to radical hours of service changes.

Even proponents of electronic logging devices have to admit: The gadgets do nothing in terms of the underlying hours of service absurdity in which truckers have to work when they should be resting and to rest when they know they could be driving safely. It’s an unsafe system, demeaning to professional drivers.

It doesn’t take much acquaintance with trucking to realize how diverse the jobs are in terms of applications, schedules, unpredictable delays, dock times, etc. Nor does it take much science to see that adults’ sleeping habits vary greatly by age and from individual to individual, and that no set requirement of rest guarantees anything about mitigating fatigue.

Hence the impossible task of coming up with an hours of service recipe that works for the entire industry. Granted, some forced rest is better than no forced rest, given the history of unscrupulous dispatchers and overly ambitious drivers. But that’s not good enough, and brings me to some points raised in our two-part Tomorrow’s Trucker series.

Though fatigue measurement is in relative infancy compared to other areas of health science, it could be the next big thing for trucking. The popular road-facing cameras not only capture wrecks and careless driving, but they also show evidence of a trucker’s erratic driving that can indicate fatigue. Certainly driver-facing cameras also can produce real-time fatigue warnings.

The same data derived from equipment that measures length and quality of sleep for drivers with sleep apnea could be a key part of a fatigue measurement system. Not too far out in the future are wearable sensors and sensors placed in seats and steering wheels that can pick up vital signs that help reveal fatigue levels.

Put aside, for the moment, all the negative aspects – and there are plenty –  of having your body monitored every second you’re on duty, of having your health data transmitted to regulators and fleet personnel. Instead, assume that biometrics and other fatigue-related data gathering become standardized.

That could form the foundation for a totally revised approach to hours of service. You’d drive when you’re rested and rest when you’re tired. Clock-based restrictions would be minimal, or at least much more flexible.

Of course, there are many problems to work out before such a system could be considered. And legal challenges based on privacy rights might well curtail such developments.

Whatever happens for better or for worse, it’s worth noting that a system based in reality – the driver’s true fitness for duty, not some rigid, almost arbitrary system cooked up by regulators – could be a big improvement over a one-size-fits-all system that actually fits very few.

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