Fatigue study says more research is needed

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line staff writer | 3/14/2016

A new report says more research is needed to understand the relationship between driver fatigue and the risk of crashes.

The report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says insufficient sleep can decrease a commercial motor vehicle driver’s level of alertness, which may increase the risk of a crash. However, the report said little is known about effective ways to minimize that risk.

“Fatigue is very difficult to define and therefore to measure objectively,” the report said. “If fatigue is loosely defined as the inability to sustain performance over time, under such a value definition is not directly measurable. Therefore, it is somewhat difficult to assess fatigue and thus to regulate how to avoid driving while fatigued.”

The committee that wrote the report found that substantial data gaps limit understanding of the factors that affect the health and wellness of drivers.

According to the report, “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Service and/or the U.S. Department of Transportation should fund, design and conduct an ongoing survey that will allow longitudinal comparisons of CMV drivers to enable tracking of changes in their health status and the factors likely to be associated with those changes over time.

“It would be highly desirable to link the collected data with relevant electronic health records. To increase the availability of relevant data for researchers, FMCSA should also incentivize those who capture driver performance data – large fleets, independent trucking associations and insurance companies. Such efforts should ensure that data confidentiality is maintained through restricted access arrangements or use of statistical techniques for disclosure protection,” the report stated.

The committee also recommended statistical design and analysis methods to account for factors that confound comparisons between control and treatment groups in crash studies.

Current FMCSA policies have their limitations, the report noted. For instance, hours-of-service regulations limit the number of hours drivers can work in a day or a week, but they can’t require that drivers receive an adequate amount of sleep while off duty.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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