Driver Fatigue Costs Charter Bus Industry Big Bucks

Posted on January 3, 2014

ASHBURN, Va. — Robert Crescenzo, vice president of safety and loss control at Lancer Insurance, speaking at the United Motorcoach Association annual Safety Management Seminar here last month, provided a series of sobering facts and observations about what driver fatigue is costing the industry.

To wit...
Fatigued driving is the primary “uncontrolled risk” in the bus and motorcoach industry and is the primary cause of most severe accidents. Fatigue likely is the cause of up to 15% of all motorcoach industry crashes, but is responsible for 80% of total claim costs.

The accident rate for motor coaches starts to increase at 9 p.m.and increases by a factor of five until it peaks at 4:30 a.m., until it declines again at 8 a.m. Therefore, warns Crescenzo, “if your drivers are on the road between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. there is a much greater risk of a crash.”

He continued...
For the bus industry, Lancer Insurance estimates the costs stemming from fatigued-driver accidents to be one-to-two cents per mile, reducing total industry revenue by 1-2% annually But, with an understanding of the body’s natural rhythms, companies can adjust schedules and adopt policies — possibly even rejecting certain jobs — to minimize the risk of fatigued driving, Crescenzo said.

“Fatigue management is really about how you manage schedules and manage drivers,” he told seminar attendees.Because of the body’s circadian rhythms, it’s most difficult to function between midnight and 7 a.m., and between 1 and 4 p.m. That’s when the body most wants to sleep, and drivers are not excepted from these natural schedules, he noted.

But neither customers nor schedulers necessarily take this into account when making driver work schedules. Of course, there are some people whose natural predilections are slightly different and are natural morning people and night owls. As a partial mitigation, during the hiring process companies should ask candidates if they are more comfortable driving in the morning or at night, and assign accordingly.

Even taking that into account, requiring drivers to work irregular hours, including late night or early morning hours, will nevertheless interfere with the body’s natural rhythms and will lead to fatigue, which increases the risk of driver mistakes and catastrophic errors. Schedules that increase the risk of fatigue-related accidents include any:

  • Continuous driving between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. on a regular basis
  • Schedule that requires continuous driving between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. on the first night back from days off (with the driver sleeping at night)
  • 10-hour shift that starts between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m., since most people will not be able to sleep immediately beforehand
  • Shift that regularly starts after 2 a.m., which is considered an early morning or day shift
  • Irregular daily shift start times day to day and week to week, since the body doesn’t cope well with flip-flopping schedules
  • Combination of schedules that results in a driver on the road after 16 hours of wakefulness
  • Combination of schedules that do not allow for two periods of night sleep after four or five periods of night driving
  • Multi-day trips where the driver is forced to sleep one night and drive the following night, also known as rapid flip-flopping
  • Combination of schedules that lead to extended mid-shift breaks (split shifts) where early starts and late finishes are required
  • Trips where a driver has to do an overnight run but normally sleeps at night
  • Schedule where drivers have the opportunity to use cruise control at night

Companies may evaluate the risk they face from fatigued drivers by examining their insurance claims for minor accidents characteristic of fatigued drivers, such as sideswipes and rear-end collisions.

“This is the clue to everyone in this room that you have a schedule that is pushing people, a schedule that is hard to manage with your staff, a schedule that is hard to manage with your customers or your vehicles,” said Crescenzo.

“So look at your lesser clams in order to see if that’s going to lead you to your larger claims.”

One way companies may avoid these kind of risky schedules is simply to reject requests to drive overnight. Often, Crescenzo said, schools or other groups ask to schedule an overnight bus so their passengers may sleep en route and arrive at their destinations in the morning. Everyone gets to sleep on the bus except the driver. It might be in your best interest to educate customers about the risks involved with this practice and decline such requests, Crescenzo said.

For motorcoach companies that decline such trips, “that’s probably one of the most significant fatigue-management elements you can add into your business to make your business profitable and successful,” he said.

“From a risk-management perspective, my recommendation would be ‘Don’t do those trips,’ and the more education provided [to customers] about the dangers of being on the road at those hours, and the difficulty of managing
these trips, the greater the likelihood of reducing your risk.”

Of course, rejecting a trip could cost the company money, but even a minor accident likely would cost significantly more, he noted.

Related Article: Center For Public Integrity Fatigue Study

Source: Bus & Motorcoach News/UMA

Related Topics: charter and tour, charter and tour operators, driver behavior, driver fatigue, driver safety, Driver training, insurance policies, motorcoaches, passenger safety, United Motorcoach Association

Comments ( 1 )
  • Walter M.

     | about 7 years ago

    Great read. VERY informative and insightful. I am in agreement with the risk management strategy of declining the overnight trip business. If communicated to the customer, this will show to them that you have a pulse on your business and the potential risks associated with the human error factor. Risk mitigation will certainly lead to more profits.

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