Asleep at the wheel

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It’s midnight; do you know where your drivers are? If so, do you know if they are too tired to drive safely? The honest answer to that question is more like crossing your fingers and offering up a prayer instead of knowing for sure. Implementing an innovative fatigue-busting program is one reason why Hogan Transports, St. Louis, was one of the grand prizewinners of the Truckload Carriers Association’s National Fleet Safety Awards. Hogan Transports won for the category of truckload companies operating over 25 million miles annually. The company’s application for the award included its innovative fatigue policy that keeps sleepy drivers off the road.

Conventional wisdom says there’s not a whole lot that can be done about driver fatigue. Sure you can require logbooks, mandate sleep and give stern lectures about the perils of sleep deprivation. But these standard procedures still result in late night accidents. “Everyone knows that even experienced drivers will accept a load when they are too tired to drive safely,” says Tom Lansing, Hogan’s director of safety and personnel.

Lansing says they wanted to reduce fatigue-related accidents by taking the driving decision away from the driver and putting it in the hands of the fatigue supervisor, who monitors drivers during peak accident hours between 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. He evaluates the condition of all the drivers on the road during that crucial time frame and decides who drives and who doesn’t.

The results have been remarkable. Since the addition of Hogan’s fatigue policy, fatigue-related accidents have been reduced from 24 accidents to 4 – an 83 percent improvement.

Initial resistance has given way to acceptance, and the policy has been absorbed into the company culture. Once drivers saw the dramatic decrease in accidents during that time frame, they bought into the idea. “It takes the burden off the driver to tell the dispatcher he’s too tired. The fatigue supervisor works with all the information available including road conditions, distance, availability of breaks and previous driving miles and makes a fact-based decision instead of an emotional one,” Lansing says. The riskiest hours are now just another shift and both drivers and managers are happy with the results.

Prestigious awards look good to customers and enhance company morale. But having the courage to try new ways to tackle old problems is what makes a successful company stand out from the pack. “First and foremost you have to continuously look at safety from new eyes,” Lansing says. “You have to try new ways and be open to new ideas.”