CALGARY EYEOPENER | Jan 23, 2015 | 8:01

Driver fatigue may have been responsible for a tanker truck crash that ended in a gasoline spill and the closure of Highway 2 earlier this week in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Interview about the issue with Roger Clarke, the chair of the North American Fatigue Management Program, and a Motor Carrier Safety Associate.

Read the transcript of the interview (with few edits for clarity).


David Grey:                        00:00                     25,000 liters of gasoline spilled on highway two near Cross Erin Mills on Tuesday the gas came from a tanker truck that had flipped over. The RCMP have now charged the trucker with careless driving. They believe he may have fallen asleep at the wheel. The CBC spoke to some truck drivers about that earlier this week.

Truck Driver 1:                   00:20                     It does happen. We're running all the time, running up tight on or log hours and sometimes just taking a day and a half off as a reset. Sure, we get it's legal, but sometimes we do need an extra day or two just to bring ourselves back down.

Truck Driver 2:                   00:41                     A lot of people think they push themselves to the limit. I mean sometimes it's companies doing it. I mean, I could still hear from time to time companies push their drivers too far to try and make a delivery or something and this is simply not worth it.

David Grey:                        00:57                     The North American fatigue Management Program was initiated in Alberta to help drivers from nodding off behind the wheel. Roger Clarke is the Chair of that program and he joins us now. Thanks for joining us. How often do you hear stories like those two truckers? We just heard

Roger Clark:                        01:14                     I’ve been involved in truck/bus safety 35 years plus and during that time have continually been reminded that fatigue is a significant problem

David Grey:                        01:21                     Is it just something that comes with the job or is it getting worse? I mean, how common is it for commercial drivers to experienced fatigue?

Roger Clark:                        01:30                     I hate to bore you with the statistics at this time of the morning, but fatigue is a factor in 13 percent of all heavy vehicle crashes and, as estimated by the National Transportation Safety Board in the US., thirty one percent of cases where a fatality is involved

David Grey:                        01:55                     We just heard,

Roger Clark:                        01:56                     Yeah, it happens

David Grey:                        01:57                     Clearly and we just heard those truck drivers say, look, there's rules around this, right? There's rules to make sure the truck drivers are not clocking too many hours on the road, but as he says, you know, it's legal to turn the guy around after a day and a half, but is it safe? Who knows? Is it enough?

Roger Clark:                        02:13                     Well, I'd say it's not enough because the incident statistics I mentioned, many occurred while the driver was operating within the hours of service rules.  While these drivers weren't always found to be beyond their driving hours.  I’d suggest that hours of service rules are a fairly crude way to determine if somebody's able to stay awake. I mean, there's all kinds of factors that come into play that makes the hours of service less than effective. Things like off duty behavior; do you get sleep when you're supposed to be resting, or driver health? A circadian fit that an earlier speaker said that he gets a day and a half off to go from Sam Morning Shift to an afternoon shift. Well, clearly his circadian rhythm just doesn’t have time to adjust?

Roger Clark:                        02:59                     There are factors such as sleep apnea that affect the quality of sleep as well, but there's so many things that come into play in fatigue that hours of service is a fairly blunt way to try to mitigate the problem of driver fatigue

David Grey:                        03:12                     Fair enough. There's also the suggestion that these guys are under pressure from companies that push the drivers too far How real is that?

Roger Clark:                        03:21                     It's real, but it is wrong to paint all carriers the same way as many carriers do their best to maintain a high level of safety.  You also need to understand that there are shippers and carriers alike,that have a poor corporate safety culture, where they're encouraged get the load through at all costs. Most drivers are paid by the mile, and shippers, don't help matters when they take an hour to load and unload them and make unrealistic delivery demands. and some, a lot of carriers, know where their bread is buttered, do whatever the shipper tells them.  So, it all the delivery pressures get passed down to the driver, who is expected to meet demands despite his or her level of fatigue

David Grey:                        04:06                     just mentioned some of the factors that cause fatigue in commercial drivers. What are the, you mentioned with sleep apnea. Can you tell me more about that? That, that seems like a bit of a surprise I think to some listeners?

Roger Clark:                        04:17                     Actually, it was one of the main surprises to us when we were conducting our initial studies.  We found that 29 percent of the drivers in our test sample had severe enough sleep apnea that could warrant medical intervention.  While sleep apnea exists in the general population, it appears to be more prevalent in the commercial vehicle industry.  I suspect that the higher rate among CV drivers is probably exacerbated by, poor diet, a lot of stress that can result in a lot of weight gain and especially around the neck that can constrict breathing and that prevents, achieving a good sleep at night.  While a CV driver is expected to get a certain number of hours of sleep, if they’re waking up by snoring every, you know, five, 10 times an hour, they’re just not getting the quality of sleep that they need remain alert while on duty the next day.

David Grey:                        05:23                    Ttruckstop burgers and too much time sitting with those seem to be two things that come with the job. How do you mitigate that?

Roger Clark:                        05:33                     There is no magic bullet.  First of all, the NAFMP is a program that serves to explain and understand individual fatigue. It's amazing how many people don't understand their own level of fatigue. They overestimate their ability to keep driving when they're about to fall asleep. There's lots of research to back that up. So as hours of service rules are less than effective in that a driver can be operating within the rules, and be totally fatigued.  So what we've developed is a, comprehensive approach to fatigue that takes into account all the medical science knowledge, diet and sleep advice, and all the technology that's coming to the market now.

David Grey:                        06:13                     And you know the, on that for just a second, because it's not just commercial drivers. If anyone who drives long distances is at some point or another, found themselves doing the whip. Absolutely. What tips do you have? Any techniques that would help drivers that you can share with us?

Roger Clark:                        06:31                     Well, what I can share with you is that rolling down the window, turning up the radio, having a cigarette and coffee. only works for a few minutes. Let's face it, the one thing that mitigates fatigue is sleep. The best idea is just pull over and if you have a, a 15 minute nap, taking care to limit it as a longer nap might leave you a little too groggy when you wake up, but that certainly helps.  It's not a something you can do continually. You do need six to eight hours of sleep. And, and those that have found to have sleep apnea, there's an easy cure. It's a c-pap machine. We found that medical intervention in test subjects resulted in a jump in sleep time from three point nine hours to up to six point eight hours in one-night sleep.  We know that it's the quality as well as the quantity of hours that make a significant difference in managing fatigue. There are things that can be done for CV drivers that work for the general populace as well.

David Grey:                        07:49                     A couple of simple things that make such a difference. Like Roger, thanks for joining us today. I appreciate it.

Roger Clark:                        07:55                     Not a problem.

David Grey:                        07:55                     That's Roger Clarke.  He lives in Red Deer and he's the Chair of the North American fatigue Management Program.