Monthly Archives: July 2018

Critical Ways Trucking Safety Can Be Improved

It is no secret that tractor-trailers competing with passenger cars on our nation’s roads and highways can potentially invite disaster. In fact, deaths from crashes involving large trucks and passenger cars have been rising since 2016. While it could be attributed to lots more newer truck drivers on the road, the fact is, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) deaths are up 5.4% from the same period in 2015.

Yet, more can still be done. Research clearly proves that advanced safety systems continue to reduce crashes as they continue to be installed on more and more passenger vehicles. Systems like forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking are making a big difference in preventing crashes and saving lives.

More on the Problem

The problem is, we are not yet seeing enough adoption of these devices on large commercial motor vehicles. Far too many big rigs on the road today are too old and simply predate the advent of these new safety technologies. In fact, according to some estimates, only around 15% of large commercial motor vehicle fleets in the United states are using advances safety systems on their rigs.

Unfortunately, it is also estimated that over 100,000 crashes per year – a quarter of those involving large commercial motor vehicles – could be prevented if systems such as blind spot warnings and stability control were standard on semi-trucks. Many argue, and rightfully so, that these technologies should be prioritized for trucks before cars. With up to 80,000 pounds barreling down the road, no safety stone should be left unturned.

There are two types of safety systems used on trucks. One alerts truck drivers of dangers, whether it be a potential collision or lane departure, and the other helps to prevent collisions, whether through emergency braking or turn assist. Many say truck manufacturers need to make these features much more readily available on the equipment they sell.

On the other side are trucking organizations that point to swift OEM action to adopt these technologies. They feel more regulation is not necessary. Technology is wonderful, but it cannot replace an experienced and skilled truck driver. What is more, trucking advocacy organizations point to the fact that more large truck accidents are caused by the drivers of passenger cars than they are by the truck driver, which research proves.

Yet, with safety technology showing widespread adoption among passenger vehicles, some openly wonder why trucking accidents and deaths are on the rise. One major consideration is the improving economy. More passenger cars and trucks are on our nation’s roads, which increases the chances for an accident.

Big Shippers Make Moves

One way to ensure we see swift adoption is to see big companies get in the game. As one example, United Parcel Service has been retrofitting a lot of their older vehicles with new, advanced safety systems. UPS now says that nearly half of their fleet is outfitted with collision-mitigation systems and they are hoping to see that number inch towards 70% by 2020.

FedEx and DHL have already made similar moves. But how much movement towards greater adoption remains to be seen. With the American Trucking Associations (ATA) coming out strongly against regulation mandating adoption, many companies may be sitting on the sidelines. It might take more prodding to get them to jump in.

Cost is another factor. Owner-operators and small fleets may not have the capital requirements necessary to procure the equipment. Many owner-operators point to million-mile records without an accident, but is this enough? Clearly, with more people hitting the roads, more needs to be done to ensure large commercial motor vehicles continue to see widespread safety technology adoption.


A New Corrective Action Plan For CSA Is Revealed

Have you heard? The FMCSA has released a mandated ‘corrective action plan’ for the much-maligned CSA program. But what does this mean?

The Details

On July 16 the FMCSA announced that they had delivered what they called a “Correlation Study Corrective Action Plan” for the CSA program. The report was delivered to Congress. The new corrective action plan will outline how the agency will address recommendations made in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report on improving the safety measurements the federal government uses to rank motor carriers.

The report examined how effective the percentile ranks given under SMS actually identifies high-risk carriers and what to do if the answer to that is not much. The report also takes a look at the accuracy of the data entered into the SMS database. Researchers were tasked with discovering other approaches to singling out high-risk fleets more effectively. Finally, they wanted to know how effective making the SMS information public has been on lessening the number of crashes recorded.

It is useful to note that the agency has already removed the SMS preview website from public view. This preview website contained changes that the agency was going to propose regarding SMS. Since the changes were released before the NAS report, they are moot.

There were six key elements in the NAS study that the agency addressed in their report to Congress. At the top of the list was the methodology the FMCSA uses to approach the data. NAS openly wondered if the methodology used by the FMCSA was not scientific enough in its modeling approach. They specifically mentioned an “Item Response Theory” approach to making the SMS system more fair and accurate.

What is IRT-Based?

With an IRT-based approach, the agency hopes that they can get an accurate measure of the ‘safety culture’ from fleet to fleet, rather than a zero-sum game of identification and intervention. This approach was further pushed late last year by the FMCSA’s Director of Compliance and Enforcement during a conference in Florida.

The agency states within their action plan that they would proceed with developing and testing an IRT model program. Of course, they would still receive public input on important measures, but they hope the IRT model will streamline and better inform the rule and regulations the agency does or does not decide to move forward with.

There is also a push to ensure that the quality of data within SMS is uncorrupted. A more frequent and much more detailed VMT data would provide much greater insight. Right now, the FMCSA only collects VMT data every couple of years. There is also no interoperability or communication between state and federal systems. More frequent collection of and collaboration with VMT data at the state and federal level stands to benefit everyone.

Finally, the agency wants to ensure it gives stakeholders proper consideration. Input must come not just from public comment, but from insurance companies, shippers, receivers, and just about anyone else making freight move within the transportation sector.

After the program is put together, FMCSA will create values based off of the IRT model to determine what information is relevant for the SMS system. Their goal is to have a small-scale model of the program ready to go by September of 2018.

How will all of this inform the next generation of CSA and SMS deployment? We will have to wait until the outcome of the FMCSA’s own internal studies before knowing which way the pendulum will swing on this issue.

Taking Another Glance At Work Truck Safety

Safety is one of the most important factors facing truck drivers and trucking companies. Not operating a commercial motor vehicle safely can cost truck drivers more than just money and business. It could cost lives. Work truck safety is one of the most critically important parts of trucking.

So, what are truck drivers seeing in their daily routines? When it comes to work truck safety, are all commercial and work vehicles treated the same? A new data study released by Verizon Connect is shedding some light on the issue. Verizon Connect is a fleet management systems provider with over 6,000 customers on its system. Their research study looked at a vast swathe of their customer base, including small and mid-size operators.

Specifically, the study was designed to examine how truck drivers operating in the mid- to light-duty range will fare. Out of everything they could have monitored, the research group covered many safety factors, including the number of fatalities per vehicle miles traveled and average speeding events per vehicle mile.

Want to know where the safest regions are for drivers of these types of vehicles? Mainly states along the East Coast. From Maryland through Virginia and on up through New England and Maine, the Northeast corridor was the safest. An outlier, Washington State, scored second place for work truck safety in the survey.

Where are the most dangerous states to work in for  truck drivers? Primarily in the South and Midwest. Another western state also stood out on the list: Montana, which came in ninth most dangerous on the list. The safest drivers could be found in North Dakota (likely due to lots of oil transports), Maine, and Nebraska. The most dangerous drivers could be found in Utah, Georgia, and California.

Heavy Trucks Not Left Out

Not to be left out, another fleet management systems operator held a contest looking for heavy truck drivers to come forward with their thoughts on what safety concerns they deal with and specific feedback on how to deal with them.

What were truck drivers saying? Interestingly, their number one concern were instances of people in passenger cars cutting them off when they are in mid-maneuver. If executed with little room for the truck to stop, those instances could be deadly. There are far too many instances where too-little space resulted in a disaster.

Another oft-cited problem was a lack of turn signal use. When a heavy-duty commercial motor vehicle is changing lanes, not properly signaling that you are moving in front of them could result in serious accident, injury, or even death. The situation is compounded if that vehicle is a tank hauler carrying hazardous material. Entire stretches of highway have been closed off for such incidents.

Finally, not to be left out was speeding, which should be of little surprise to many. Nearly a fifth of all heavy-duty truck drivers surveyed stated that far too much speeding is going on. When a vehicle is traveling to quickly, it can be difficult to see evolving road conditions.

Stay Aware and Know Your Limits

Above all, truck drivers – and this goes for those surveyed and those who know the importance of safety – say it is important to always stay aware of one’s surroundings and know one’s limits.

If fatigue is setting in, whether driving a passenger car or a commercial motor vehicle, it is critical to stop and get some rest. Lives are at stake and it simply is not worth it.

By conducting the operation of a motor vehicle, whether passenger or commercial, in a safe manner, all the time, with no exceptions, you will ensure safe passage for you and those around you on our nation’s highways.

New Research Shows Sleep Deprivation Affects People Differently

One of the largest health and safety problems within the trucking industry is sleep apnea. Truck drivers have to stay on the road for long periods of time and a lack of sleep or constant fatigue can create a very unsafe situation. With so much research going into understanding how sleep apnea affects people, there are bound to be some breakthroughs.

Many tuckers believe they can pull many hours on the road, but for some people, missing just a few hours of sleep can turn some people into walking zombies. Of course, some people are able to function well on little sleep, but truck drivers should think twice before taking unnecessary chances.

In fact, new research does show that the natural variation in individual biomarkers can identify people most at risk for sleep apnea or excessive fatigue. Researchers uncovered that people who went without sleep for at least 39 hours showed altered levels of microRNAs in their blood. They could then catalog how much sleep loss impacted individual cognitive performance.

But what are microRNAs? Otherwise referred to as MiRNAs, these are small bits of genetic material that govern and regulate genetic expression. MiRNAs work by preventing messenger RNAs from converting genetic information into proteins. By conducting studies that allow researchers to peer into how the MiRNA prevents genetic changes, they can identify who is most susceptible to apnea, drifting and fatigue.

Study Details

The groundbreaking research study tracked 32 healthy adults over a five-day period. The adults received two evenings of regular 8 hours of sleep followed by a full 39-hour period with no sleep. Not sleeping for a full 30 hours is considered total sleep deprivation.

After the full 39 hours with no sleep, participants were allowed two nights of recovery, which included another 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. During the alternating sleep periods researchers took blood samples and administered cognitive tests. By determining the levels of miRNA in the blood during specific periods of cognitive testing, researchers were able to isolate who suffered the most from the 39 hours of sleep deprivation.

If an owner-operator or a trucking company can determine ahead of time how likely a truck driver is to succumb to fatigue, they can better plan road times or setup operators running in teams. It could also mean the difference between having an extra cup of coffee or taking a nap.

Could Be Anyone

Even more, this kind of research bodes well for more than just truck drivers. Everyone from first responders to healthcare professionals and others who work overnight or long hours. It is important to remember, however, that coffee and other forms of stimulation are no substitute for quality sleep.

It should also be noted that although this study only followed people who underwent 39 hours of sleep deprivation, similar side effects would occur to people who just did not get a consistent amount of sleep per evening.

As an example, someone working through the night and then only sleeping for a few hours when they can, would experience the same type of cognitive impacts as individuals who hadn’t slept for 39 hours. This study shows that not only is getting enough sleep important, but specific genetic tests can help researchers learn who is more at risk for the negative effects of sleep deprivation. And since blood tests are relatively simple to administer, advances in screening can give new options to medical examiners who certify truck drivers.

Hopefully continued research will shed light on the issue of sleep deprivation and how it impacts performance. Everyone stands to benefit from improvements.