Freight and commercial drivers are controlled and regulated in many countries through testing and driver licensing to ensure a basic level of competence. Thereafter, law enforcement agencies monitor traffic offences such as speeding, running red lights and careless or dangerous driving. Traffic law violations result in fines or even custodial sentences in more serious cases. Many countries including the EU, US, Australia and Malaysia also operate a “demerit” system whereby penalty points are added or taken away from a driver’s licence depending on the penalty tariff for the system and the offence. Losing or accumulating enough penalty points in a given period can result in a driver’s licence being suspended or revoked. The offender may have to reapply for a licence after a period of suspension - which may also include retaking a driving test.
Some companies are turning to technology to constantly monitor their drivers’ behaviour to ensure that they drive safely and efficiently. Critical safety factors involving the commercial driver include hours of service, lane keeping, steering and pedal inputs, safety belt usage, following distance, turn signal use, and harsh braking and hard steering events can be tracked through software. Computers monitor driving style in terms of harsh braking, acceleration, gear changes and engine revolutions. This allows the company to review each driver’s data and to train them to improve the driving style, so increasing safety and saving costs through better fuel consumption and less vehicle wear and tear. (See On-board Monitoring and Telematics)
The safety significance is substantial given that 57% of fatal truck accidents in the USA are attributed to driver fatigue whilst 70% of American drivers report driving whilst fatigued. In America, it is estimated that 1,500 deaths and 100,000 crashes a year are caused by drivers (of all vehicles) with a diminished vigilance level.
A number of vehicle manufacturers are currently developing or trialling the use of fatigue detection software in lorries (such as Volvo). This technology is also provided by 3rd parties. Having learnt a driver’s driving habits, the software is able to determine if his/her driving is affected by fatigue and to offer an audible warning. Other software approaches involve cameras tracking eye and head movements to detect fatigue. These have been trialled by Caterpillar in the mining sector and by a number of bus companies involved in pan-European travel.