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NTSB Offers Information on Managing Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Fatigue Risks

A National Transportation Safety Board webinar this fall provided an overview of the health and environmental factors that can cause fatigue in commercial drivers.

Although the main focus of the webinar was on commercial truck and bus drivers, a safety and education culture and the implementation of a fatigue management program is also applicable to school bus drivers.

Kicking off the Oct. 27 event was NTSB Chairman Bruce Landsberg, who pointed out that there are operators with the attitude of “a few crashes are the cost of doing business, just keep driving,” he explained. The best companies, however, recognize their driver’s service and value, and they will do everything possible to encourage safe operations.

Landsberg supposed that in every one of the 4,630 fatal large truck and bus crashes occurring in 2018, each driver was positive at the outset that it was just going to be another routine trip. Certainly, school bus drivers are the professional drivers that have the most routines, namely their morning and afternoon routes that seldom if ever change.

The webinar sought to provide insight on what can be done to educate drivers about fatigue, and what programs enhance the safety culture of a commercial driving operation.

NTSB crash investigator Michael Fox explained that every two years the agency publishes a Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements, with the 2019-2020 version including a call to “Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents.” The next Most Wanted List update is expected in February.

Fox also described how NTSB investigators determine if fatigue was a factor in a crash, and he highlighted a few crashes in which fatigue was indeed a factor. The most famous of these incidents is what is commonly referred to as the Tracy Morgan crash. Morgan, a comedian known for his acting on “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock,” was traveling in a limo bus on the New Jersey turnpike in June 2014, when the vehicle was struck by a Walmart tractor-trailer. A limo passenger was killed and Morgan and three other passengers were seriously injured.

A photo of the 3-D image of the truck, which appeared in The Washington Post, helped the NTSB investigate the crash. Fox said investigators discovered that the Walmart truck driver had made a personal trip during his off-duty time, traveling 800 miles (12 hours) from his terminal in Delaware to visit his home in Georgia. The driver then drove back to Delaware and continued with his entire planned route. The NTSB determined he’d been awake for almost 24 hours at the time of the crash.

Walmart didn’t have any restrictions on how far away a driver could live from their terminal. Although the company uses collision avoidance systems on its vehicles, these systems were not fully operational. Fox said NTSB found that critical event reports were not being generated. Walmart did address fatigue as part of its driver training, but Fox relayed that it did not have a structured fatigue management program. The company has since implemented numerous safety improvements that address driver fatigue.

Additionally, Fox discussed the four elements of creating a fatigue management program:

  • Good safety culture with continuous education
  • Policies and Procedures, to provide structure to support the culture of safety
  • Training and Education, including obtaining rest off-duty
  • Evaluation of the success of the program may use accident data

Fox suggested that insurance companies are excellent partners to work with when creating a fatigue management system, as they can provide tools to help reveal vulnerabilities.


Related: NTSB Presentation Focuses on School Bus Fire Suppression Systems, Driver Health
Related: NTSB on Getting Back to School Safely
Related: NTSB Releases Full Final Report of Fatal Indiana School Bus Crash


“Another tool is technology,” advised Fox. “There are many commercially available monitoring systems to help evaluate driver fatigue, such as inward and outward-facing cameras. If a driver initiates a hard brake or a stability control event, these systems record the event. However, it’s important to use the data and establish thresholds for drivers.”

“Fatigue should be on everyone’s most wanted list,” Fox added. “Please consider the [Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s] North American Fatigue Management Program as a starting point.”

Fox also spoke to the human factors that affect driver fatigue-related crashes such as medical records, DOT physicals, pharmacology, toxicology, and the driver’s Body Mass Index (BMI). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a BMI over 30 is considered obese, which is a factor in obstructive sleep apnea. A driver’s use of a CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, is also examined.

The webinar also shared demonstrations of how collision mitigation technology can assist commercial drivers in avoiding or reducing the severity of crashes.

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