Will fatigue management technology help the transport industry?

As more transport companies jump on the bandwagon and start introducing fatigue management technology into their vehicles and businesses, will it make a difference?

Monash University’s 2023 Driving Health Study was another wakeup call to the transport industry.

With 62.1 per cent of truck drivers involved in the project reporting experiencing fatigue whilst working, it doesn’t take much to recognise the severity of the issue at hand.

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Collectively, we’ve seen an increase of awareness and enforcement coming down on truckies over the past decade.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) even partnered with police across the country this past holiday season to conduct a national operation to combat fatigue-related heavy vehicle crashes.

NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto says heavy vehicle driver fatigue is one of the three biggest killers on our roads.

During the blitz, over 200 heavy vehicles were issued notices for breaches with more than 5,350 heavy vehicle intercepts across the Southern and Central Regions.

Work diary and fatigue-related education was provided in 623 of these intercepts.

What can be done

With fatigue management being a topic of discussion within the industry, we have also seen an increased interest in fatigue management technology.

These technologies hold considerable promise in detecting unsafe and high-risk driving behaviours with a high degree of specificity and sensitivity.

For many in the industry, these technologies have considerable potential to supplement or even supplant more traditional approaches to fatigue management.

One of the biggest players on the market right now is Seeing Machines, a technology company that specialises in fatigue management software and driver monitoring technology.

Seeing Machines GM Aftermarket Max Verberne says its most popular software, ‘Guardian’ has been scientifically proven to reduce the risks of fatigue related driving by more than 90 per cent.

How does it work

“AI built into Guardian monitors a driver’s attentiveness and intervenes if it detects a fatigue or distraction event,” Verberne explains.

“For distraction, the system tracks the head pose and eye gaze to determine where the driver is looking and maps that to a defined area of on-road or off-road so as to work out if they are looking at the road ahead.

“For fatigue, the algorithm looks at things like eye closure (duration, frequency and speed) as well as other driver behaviours to determine if they are drowsy or actually having a microsleep.

“From there, you can see how this process then advances to ensure that the risks associated with distracted or drowsy driving are mitigated.”

What’s the reception

In response to this new tech, the NHVR conducted a research report on the use of fatigue/distraction detection technology use in the Australian road freight transport sector.

A common theme for nearly all operators was that the main concern from drivers was that the technology would be used as a surveillance tool. Drivers reportedly did not like the idea of being watched all the time.

“Initially, there can be some resistance. There are many ‘myths’ around what a Driver Monitoring System like Guardian actually does,” Verberne says.

“For example, some people misconstrue this as a CCTV where they can be monitored remotely. This is not the case.

“Once drivers experience using a robust solution, where alerts are reliably triggered, resistance reduces significantly.

“Many drivers, especially those who experience a ‘near-miss’ due to a fatigue or distraction event, actually revere the technology and some have even claimed it is like having a mate in the cabin, keeping them awake and alert.”

With a fleet of over 150 trucks operating from distribution centres in Melbourne, Sydney, Wodonga and Brisbane, Don Watson Transport is one of Australia’s leading refrigerated transport companies.

The company had previously installed four way recording cameras to passively record the activities of their trucks.

Don Watson CEO Lyndon Watson says an incident with micro sleep prompted them to adopt permanent fatigue management technology across their fleet.

“We decided to roll it out, just immediately roll it out across every truck and every local truck and every rigid,” he says.

He says as a company, they must take every step to ensure a catastrophic event can be avoided.

“We have found that the active fatigue management tool that interacts with the driver in real time is an overall positive for the business.

“I’m sure that the technology is prompting drivers and reducing incidences that could have been something large.”

The initial pushback when introducing the technology was limited, with only 3-5 per cent of drivers presenting an issue with the software.

“Now that they’ve been in the vehicles for many years, I can’t even recall the last time we had a driver that has issue with it,” he says.

“I think a lot of people are now aware that their personal car that they’re driving have the same features. And so anything in regards to infrared light and such, it’s just an element of a new vehicles.

“People have to learn to accept them as a part of the future.”

As a company Don Watson Transport has found success since implementing the technology, calling it a “net positive”.

“I feel that the technology is a net positive in regard to financial, but also net positive in regard to safety,” Watson says.

“But on top of that, it’s largely the distributor (of the technology) that will vastly improve the experience that a user or customer is going to experience.

Watson says a lot of his positive experiences with the technology are largely due to their relationship with Connect Source in WA.

Moving forward

Verberne says the ideal goal is that “every single commercial vehicle will have some form of driver monitoring system technology either built into it or retrofitted in 10 years’ time.”

“As technology inside the cabin increases, the best outcome would be for DMS or Guardian technology to be fully integrated with our required systems, such as Telematics,” he says.

“This would streamline the interior cabins, tick the safety requirements and also meet the other needs of operators and drivers, delivered via Telematics and other technologies.”

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