NTSB posts their wish list each year. Last year, thanks to Dec 2015's 10,000+ pages of rule changes; they had most of their wishes granted.
Let's discuss this year's wish list.
NTSB is not desiring a Professional Driver but a well-trained robot. You are to sit the seat and be a good boy. Just like Ham and Enos (the chimps first associated with the space program); drivers are to push buttons and respond to mechanical signals. They are not to think and act as Captain of their ship any longer. Technology is replacing that part of the driving equation.
We have devices that tell us when we acted inappropriately, vehicles automatically deploy the brakes (this one is scary to me), video records everything and drivers are constantly monitored. In some companies, dispatch changes your RPM settings based on where they think you are located. This has caused many issues in mountainous areas. Image an unannounced surge in RPM or a cut that stalls out the truck. Mass ramifications from any of these items and let us not even begin on what happens when these systems fail or horribly malfunction!
Cell phones are an intricate part of life. They are no longer an accessory but rather an extension of one’s self. You cannot single out one driver type for a cell phone ban. Vehicles are more integrated all the time with new ways to connect to cell phones, internet and so forth. Life runs from a computer dictating to us what our next move will be. Don’t believe me; use a GPS.
People do the strangest things while driving when using their GPS. It is like their mind goes blank. I have watched this in action and investigated after an accident. “The GPS told me to do it!” How many horror stories have you heard where the truck goes down an unfit road because the GPS told him to do so? GPS is a nice tool but use it with your brain and verify. If it does not make sense; don’t do it! Stop cutting off 3 lanes of traffic because your device updates late and you suddenly need the exit. Same for any of these tools. They are not your brain. They are a tool and need to be used as such.
Instead of our driving schools truly training and educating a driver; the government invests BILLIONS of dollars to make autonomous driving a reality. A six-week driving school does not teach one to drive. While autonomous driving is a cool sci-fi thought; reviewing the study of how this will actually come to be is disturbing. I do not want to be part of a road chain. With railroads declining at present; is this the real culprit? Is the goal to kill old money and only the nouveau riche will rule? I digress.
As for driver health – my 2 cents can be read here - http://thedotdoctor.com/the_dot_doctor_speaks
Driver fatigue will not improve until work conditions improve. Drivers are human; well at this point in time they still remain as such. They need a regular schedule. You work days or you work nights. A schedule that flip-flops you is bad for your health. You never receive adequate sleep as your rhythms are always a mix. Scientific evidence has proven this to be so. It is high time that the industry embraces this fact.
I recall a Safety Manager during an orientation class back in the 90s. He told the drivers, “…you may have just woken up for an 8-hour break but if we don’t have anything right now; you better rest because it will come by the end of the day and you WILL drive all night to make it so…..” WOW, how unsafe but wow realistic! If you just slept for 8; you are not going back to sleep and even if you do that does not mean you are prepared for a 15-hour day beginning in 12-hours.
Carriers must work with shippers and receivers on realistic time schedules. Is this driver a day or a night driver? How is such decided? Driver should declare this on their application; in my opinion. You know your rhythm best. Once declared, then the company must honor your declared hours of availability. I do not believe drivers suffer from sleep apnea as much as reports say. I believe they suffer from shift rotation side effects. If we remove the rotation; I am certain we will see a decline in sleep apnea issues. Of course this means doctors, clinics and equipment manufactures will lose money. So we can’t have that; now can we?!?
So many issues in this industry can be solved by implementing some logic and common sense. The problem is that the people running the show are so dollar oriented, they want robots at the helm. They do not want to take the time to see what could work but rather how to bend the individual into the mold they have created. When we stepped back and looked for a true solution instead of a OSFA fix; that never works, we found the answers. Our driver turnover was almost nil and of great importance was that drivers were happy. They had a set schedule and a work/life balance. It can be done. It just takes effort and communication. The return: high accident reduction rate, lowered injury rate, reduced insurance rates and an overall safer workplace. This can be accomplished but you have the way the industry works. It can no longer be me centric. With such a change; NTSB would achieve their goals without excessive legislation.
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