As new truck driving hours-of-service (HOS) regulations lie just ahead, there is heightened recognition among regulators, the North American trucking industry, and the public alike that driver fatigue is not just a trucking industry issue.

Fatigue is said to account for 5 to 10% of all heavy truck accidents and 30 to 40% of fatalities involving heavy trucks. Fatigue affects people differently, usually resulting in reduced alertness, loss of concentration, shorter attention span, and reduced ability to respond quickly and accurately.

Contributing significantly to truck driver fatigue are demands of just-in-time freight expectations, which affect work schedules and thus disrupt sleep. Truck drivers are not alone in driving while tired, points out the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), which notes that fatigue kills more young people in traffic crashes than does alcohol. According to ATA statistics, 57% of adults have driven while drowsy while 23% have fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year.

Longhaul truck drivers are especially susceptible to high fatigue levels. In Dept. of Transportation focus groups, longhaul truck drivers said they sleep better in a parked vehicle than in a moving truck. Often, parking a truck to rest is not an option. DOT statistics show that 28,000 more public truck parking spaces are needed in the U.S. alone.

Compounding the problem are some state laws and local ordinances that limit truck rest-stop use to two hours. Furthermore, should truck drivers idle their rigs for heat or power while stopped overnight to rest, they face the likelihood of stiff fines and penalties. Safe rest stops are another issue.

Longhaul truck drivers tell DOT they want sleepers with good noise insulation and effective climate control. Progressive fleets have taken note, and many are already making strong safety-related investments to recruit and retain good drivers in an era of severe driver shortages and triple-digit driver turnover. Truck and engine OEMs are also making design changes to help keep truck drivers more alert behind the wheel.

Webasto Thermosystems is proud to be a leading maker of auxiliary preheat and cab heating and cooling solutions that provide effective and affordable alternatives to idling, while reducing the operating costs of trucking companies and owner-operators.

Webasto systems help truck drivers rest more comfortably in a climate-controlled environment without the vibration or noise of an idling diesel engine to disrupt sleep or the need to wake up to crank the engine to heat or cool the cab. And we help truck drivers avoid truck regulators looking for trucks that are idling unnecessarily.

As we all know, the first step to dealing with any problem is recognition. Trucking has recognized that driver fatigue is an issue that must be dealt with now. At Webasto, we are committed to sponsoring programs that educate drivers and fleets about the hazards of driving while fatigued and that provide practical countermeasures to combat fatigue.

With education, training, and technological advancements in auxiliary climate-control systems, our industry has the ability to put safety first.

Let us make fatigue countermeasure implementation one of trucking's lasting legacies for future generations of truck drivers and everyone with whom we share the road. Working together, we can make "asleep at the wheel" an extinct phrase in the 21st century.