Proposed new hours of service regulations are being reconsidered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
But, no matter when new hours of service present themselves, they will be prescriptive in defining how we manage our fleet operations. To get a prescription that comfortably fits our operations will be difficult to do. Especially given the growing body of scientific knowledge related to sleep and fatigue. And many fleet managers do not have compliance obligations for these rules anyway.
And aside from the whole issue of regulations controlling hours of service, we are continually reminded that our current means of operations somehow are just not right. On a regular (but thankfully infrequent basis), an accident involving a fleet vehicle occurs which causes serious injury or fatalities. Many of these accidents have strong indications of fatigue induced driver behavior at the time of the accident. And yet, it is extremely rare that any hours of service violations exist when these accidents occur. Thus it seems that simply having hours of service rules around by which we can live is not enough to insure that our drivers are fit to drive safely during the course of their work day.
The pressures of maintaining an adequate number of drivers in combination with growing demands for your fleet is a management challenge. Yet, are you doing enough to emphasize the importance of being well rested and physically fit for efficient and safe performance by drivers? Is there an organizational commitment to these principals? Are you doing more than just living by hours of service?
Much has been learned about fatigue and how it is related to driver's activities. One thing is clear: it is far easier to understand the "science" of fatigue than it is to regulate or manage it. To put it another way, while all of us may agree on what causes fatigue, how we manage it is extremely difficult. And the fundamental reason for this is not because of a lack of knowledge or a lack of concern; rather, it relates to an organization's inability to control and regulate the activities of individuals while they are not being paid and, for some, the inescapable necessity to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And, attempting to manage any individual's time when they are not working raises legal and ethical questions which are far beyond the practical aspects of this presentation.
Fatigue is a real issue in managing any fleet. Whether induced by work or at home, fatigue limits a driver's ability to be vigilant, increases inattentiveness and complacency; and slows the ability to make decisions and react. Any fleet manager should manage fatigue as much as they manage the maintenance of vehicles. The bottom line is we are faced with managing a physiological condition which is often routed in behavior which we can not manage but which can be influenced, sometimes significantly, by our operations. But how should you do this?