Travelers and VTTI host symposium on driver safety

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Travelers and Northland Insurance, a division of Travelers with more than 65 years in the transportation industry, in partnership with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), co-hosted a symposium where research on some of the top concerns of the trucking industry was discussed with fleet managers and insurance brokers.

Topics were selected through a VTTI poll of fleet managers, and focused on the impact of driver wellness, managing distraction, hours of service regulations and new technology on safety.

“At Travelers and Northland, it is important for us to advance strategies that can help keep commercial drivers safer,” said Chris Hayes, director of transportation services, Travelers. “The goal of this program was to outline solutions to help fleet managers address their most significant concerns and improve overall driver safety. The research discussed was conducted by the National Surface Transportation Safety Center for Excellence, where Travelers and Northland work with VTTI to continue advancing the science of roadway safety.”

During the symposium, workshops were led by VTTI experts and Travelers claim professionals at Travelers’ Claim University to provide fleet managers and trucking industry leaders with tools to help improve driver safety. In addition, Travelers representatives walked through an accident reconstruction display, discussed tactics for preventing cargo theft and shared ways fleet managers can help minimize risks. Below is a summary of some of the topics discussed.

Driver Wellness

Driver wellness was a topic in many of the workshops, particularly concerning fatigue. Dr. Erin Mabry, research associate for the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at VTTI, focused on how safety may be impacted by common health concerns such as fatigue and sleep apnea. One in four commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers in the U.S. may be at risk for moderate to severe sleep apnea, and the majority of sufferers are undiagnosed and untreated, according to VTTI.

“The typical lifestyle of a CMV truck driver may include irregular work and sleep hours, physical inactivity, poor eating habits, and mental and physical stress,” Mabry said. “Health interventions that target weight management are critical for addressing the many components of poor health that is widespread among the population.”

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Mabry outlined the steps fleet managers can take to implement a successful wellness program, including offering physical and clinical testing, health education, accessible health clinics and exercise coaching and monitoring. Information from also was highlighted as it is a resource drivers can easily access, with updated information on maintaining a driver medical card, developing an exercise regimen, and making healthy food choices on the road.

Distracted Driving

Dr. Jeffrey Hickman, a specialist in behavior-based safety research at VTTI, focused on ways that trucking operations can minimize distraction. He suggested training and education, establishing a policy defining distractions and the consequences for each, securing management buy-in, onboard safety monitoring systems, and crash avoidance systems as tools to assist in curbing the distracted driving issue.

“Drivers need to be educated about the dangers of distracted driving and which activities are considered distractions,” Hickman said. “If drivers engage in distracted driving after training and education, this suggests a motivation deficit. This is when a distracted driving policy or other technologies should be considered.”

Dr. Gregory M. Fitch, senior research associate in the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at VTTI, discussed trends in safety technologies available for CMVs. According to Fitch, 78 percent of crashes involve a driver not looking forward at the onset of the lead vehicle braking. Forward Collision Warning systems with active braking can direct drivers’ attention back to the road to avoid an incident. These systems are now even able to fully stop a truck if the driver fails to do so.

Hours of Service

Darrell S. Bowman, group leader for advanced systems and applications in the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at VTTI, also discussed risks associated with driver drowsiness and fatigue and suggested ways to monitor and manage the problem, including maintaining more predictable work hours, getting adequate sleep before driving, taking rest breaks and naps and utilizing an online fatigue management program for drivers.

Susan Soccolich, a VTTI statistician, discussed fatigue and the new hours-of-service (HOS) rules. Driver drowsiness, HOS research and the safety impact of HOS regulations are among the reasons for the recent change in rules. Soccolich showed the benefits for drivers and companies using new technology such as Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) to help the driver stay awake, alert, and compliant with the latest regulations.

Travelers has created an online Roadmap to Transportation Safety to provide more information to help manage driver risks.