Driver fatigue: Don’t ignore the basics


High-tech gadgetry sparkles but might not be gold. When it comes to keeping your drivers awake, a little more analogue thinking can do the trick.

A recent horror bus crash involving ten ANC supporters has once again thrown into stark relief the dangers associated with driver fatigue. At the time of writing, the investigation into the exact cause of the accident has not yet been determined.

However, whether it happened because drivers were attempting to swap places without stopping – as has been speculated – or a driver falling asleep, is immaterial if the crash occurred because a decision had been taken to keep the bus moving for the longest possible time.

Ctrack’s MD for Fleet Management Solutions, Hein Jordt, says hi-tech solutions can help in situations such as these. He maintains, however, that good old-fashioned man management – monitored by telemetry – remains the most effective way to keep drivers awake and safely on the tarmac.

For fleet owners and the public in general it is imperative to understand the nature of the work of a truck driver. Apart from long hours and distances travelled, he often suffers from loneliness and pressure from the fleet owner to reduce the times spent on the road in order to attain maximum productivity. This can all lead to physical and mental exhaustion that manifests in reduced energy, motivation and concentration.

There is a myriad of other factors that may cause fatigue. Medication, a lack of rest or sleep, and intoxicating substances are but a few.

“Actively managing your driver’s performance by logging the number of hours driven and whether or not scheduled stops have been adhered to, tends to yield the best results,” says Jordt.

While hi-tech safety glasses which can help combat driver fatigue do exist, they are very expensive. Some cost over R100 000 a pair.

Ctrack’s Driver Behaviour Indicator (DBI) can serve a double function of alerting drivers to any infringements on the road, and keeping them alert throughout the trip. The device is placed on the dashboard in front of the driver and displays a series of traffic-light coloured warning lights. Green, amber and red lights display a cumulative number of warnings, while a sustained period of responsible driving will enable a driver to clear the lights. The system can be interfaced with existing lane departure warning and driver fatigue monitoring devices.

Another simple but effective option, is to install tag points around the rig. The driver physically has to walk an inspection route, presenting a fob to tag points. This procedure is planned into the route schedule and forces the driver to stop and get out of the cab to check tyres, brakes, lights and other items. This way, he is simultaneously getting some fresh air and exercise, which improves blood circulation.

Another role that telemetry can play, relates to the monitoring and reporting on excessive idling, thereby optimising turnaround time at the yard. If a driver is waiting in a warm vehicle cab for 30 minutes for the yard to receive the cargo, he or she is likely to get drowsy.

“Ultimately, driver training and firm regulation implementation are still the most effective tools for change on this issue,” explains Hein. “We need to install a culture of maturity and responsibility in both transport operators and drivers.”

This article originally appeared in Future Trucking & Logistics.