Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety and training for Schneider National, has been exploring the problem of fatigued driving for years with the support of some of the best scientists and researchers in the business. In fact, before 2010 is over, he expects that the results of a long-term study on driver fatigue will finally be ready for publication.

In the meantime, Osterberg has not been idle when it comes to driver fatigue, and his observations and opinions may very well point the way to the future for truly managing the problem. Fleet Owner recently had the opportunity to talk with Osterberg about what he has discovered so far.

FO: How did you come to be so interested in fatigued driving?

Osterberg: Back in 2003 when I took over accountability for safety at Schneider, the focus was on reducing crash severity by reducing crash frequency. I decided then that we needed to understand the “anatomy” of a high-severity crash in order to get at its root causes.

It turned out that fatigue was involved in a high percentage of severe crashes, but it was not being directly studied and addressed. We stepped up, however, because the problem was too serious to avoid. There was no roadmap for us to follow, so we've made our own, which we are very willing to share.

We've had a lot to learn, but in the end we will quantify the problem of driver fatigue and we will identify the benefits of treatment. The fatigue study we have been involved in is progressing very well. Data collection is essentially complete; now it is a matter of analysis and peer review of the results.

FO: Are sleep disorders an inevitable part of the job of long-haul driving?

Osterberg: There is a well-know study out of Pennsylvania which found that up to 28% of drivers may be afflicted with sleep disorders, but it is not preordained that they have to be. I really do believe that we can change the lifestyle of drivers to make them healthier and less apt to suffer from related sleep problems. It is difficult and it will take time, but that is no excuse not to act.

Latency is an issue with driver wellness programs — the so-called time “from the flash to the bang.” Fleets have to ask themselves, “How much do you want to invest in working with a driver who may not stay with you very long?”

FO: Do you think that regulation of hours of service is the answer to the problem?

Osterberg: This is an area where there is a need for industry regulation to drive us in a sustainable, clear direction. The current HOS regulation works pretty well. It follows the normal, set human circadian rhythms. When people want more HOS flexibility, I have to ask: “Are you saying that a 14-hr. day is too restrictive then?”

If the objective of HOS rules is to reduce fatigue-related crashes, why are we sitting on good fatigue-related research while we tinker yet again with hours-of-service rules? This tinkering has allowed people to “wait and see” what will finally be required before taking action.

FO: Could requiring electronic logs help to reduce fatigued driving by mandating compliance with HOS limits?

Osterberg: Actually, I think that is a good place to begin rather than starting with revising the hours-of-service regulations. If we were to move the entire industry to EOBRs (electronic onboard recorders), we would know that everyone was compliant with the existing HOS regulations. Then we could: 1) Address sleep disorders and driver fatigue. 2) See how that really impacted crash severity. 3) Then take an informed look at whether or not changes should be made to HOS regulations to improve safety.

FO: Where do you think the real solution to managing driver fatigue lies?

Osterberg: Our beliefs shape our attitudes, and our attitudes shape our habits. Rather than directly address problem behaviors, we need to address the subconscious, limiting beliefs about what it means to be a truck driver and the harmful habits that some of those beliefs can foster.

As humans, we filter input all the time. Not everything gets through. We tend to see and respond to what seems “normal” to us and do likewise. You really have to make a very conscious, deliberate effort to see what you are missing, to include what your filter automatically screens out. Suppose “the norm” for truck drivers was to be trim, fit, active and healthy and that image became what all drivers wanted to be.

It is too easy to focus on the negative behaviors you want to suppress rather than the good behaviors you want to see. We need to learn to recognize and reward those good behaviors.