Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.
Fool me 27 times (as one driver did to his company recently in order to stay on the road long after the mound of evidence became sufficient to end his career) then shame on everyone — on the driver, on the company that hired and retained him, and on the industry and regulatory organizations that somehow allow such drivers to remain behind the wheel of potentially dangerous 80,000-pound big rigs.
That example case — and we don’t know if that example is extreme example or far more common than we realize — was cited by Robert Molloy, director of the Office of Highway Safety at the National Transportation Safety Board, during a March 28 presentation to an American Trucking Associations Safety Management Council meeting in Virginia. Molloy told the story of a driver who’d had more than 18 critical events written up on his driving record, and who had been disciplined by his employer at least 27 times, but for some reason was still earning a living on the road. That driver, not surprisingly, ended up causing a major crash.
“One of the problems was that all the company’s driver records were on paper, and the company had no way of knowing whether he was a good or bad driver,” Molloy said in an article in Transport Topics.
A second truck crash involved a driver with high blood pressure who’d suffered a seizure only a week before the crash. So why was he still driving? Because of the wide gaps in the system that allow drivers either to be untruthful with their employers about health issues or to not report their health issues at all.
And a third big hole in the driver competency and fitness tracking system is inability of trucking companies to know with certainty that drivers are using their mandatory (and in most cases now, mandatory-by-law) rest periods to actually rest? That doesn’t mean drivers have to sleep the entire time they’re off duty, but even when not sleeping they should be careful not to do things that will bring on exhaustion since that will hasten the onset of drowsiness once they get on the road.
Getting ahead of at-risk drivers with better data
The challenge in each of these situations is an absence of information, or at least the absence of readily accessible information, in a format that is meaningful and quickly understandable.
That’s why trucking firms increasingly need advanced data capture, data tracking and data analysis tools. These tools can provide invaluable help in monitoring not just rig and fleet performance but also tracking driver behaviors in order to provide training and counseling, both keys to safe operations and retention of great drivers.
Perhaps the most obvious and easiest to track is the analysis of a driver’s road record. With today’s technology there’s simply no reason to still be relying on paper records. It’s impossible to track paper records in a way that provides management quick and accurate analysis of a driver’s suitability for hiring, re-training or continued employment.
The savings available via the retention of good drivers and reduced spending on driver recruitment could justify the expense of purchasing such systems.
Advanced systems can alert fleets to troubled drivers
Today’s advanced trucking systems, coupled with strong trucking company medical policies, are even able to penetrate, at least partially, the previously opaque world of driver medical records. Larry Minor, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s associate administrator, noted during the same conference that that there are more than 52,000 doctors who are FMCSA-certified medical examiners. A strong company policy requiring drivers to undergo regular checkups administered by these medical professionals not only can help trucking companies reduce risk, they can help individual drivers get on top and stay on top of health issues that if left untreated or ignored could end their careers early.
In the almost three-year period from May 2014 through February 2017 FMCSA medical examiners conducted 14.7 million exams. Out of that number of driver exams, 96.4 percent “passed,” receiving FMCSA medical cards. In fact, more than 8.4 million of those who passed got two-year medical cards, while 4.4. were issued one-year cards. Only about 1 percent of drivers examined were temporarily denied cards based on medical issues severe enough to keep them off the road, while only 1.6 percent of them were permanently disqualified for medical reasons.
Drivers should not fear – and firms should not be reluctant to require – seeing an FMCSA-certified doctor on a regular basis. The risk of temporary or permanent career loss for a driver who submits to such an exam is low. Meanwhile, the risk of a major health problem or death (either as a direct result of that health issue or indirectly as a result of an illness-induced wreck) is very high for the less than 3 percent of drivers who are at risk because of undiagnosed or ignored major medical issues.
Advanced trucking industry data systems can capture FMCSA-certified doctor’s reports and give managers an alert that one of their drivers has a medical issue that needs to be addressed immediately, not only to reduce the firm’s liability but also to improve or potentially save that driver’s life.
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