friday, april 9, 2010
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Fighting fatigue Push to force truckies to wear anti-snooze glasses How it works Zero-tolerance: Mr Byrne
■ Optalert is a personal safety tool for truck drivers
Blaming the big rigs unfair
■ Its major component is a special pair of glasses connected to a small computer inside the truck cab ■ The glasses use tiny pulses of invisible infra-red light to constantly measure a driver’s eye and eyelid movement, which is a key indicator of a driver’s level of drowsiness ■ The data from the glasses is analysed by a computer to determine just how tired the driver is
TRUCK drivers have an undeserved reputation as highway monsters, with their numbers the result of the Australian desire to buy anything, anytime, anywhere. So believes Michael Byrne, chief executive officer of transport company Linfox, which has more than 6500 drivers hauling trucks across the nation. With so many people under his charge, Mr Byrne is passionate about road safety and believes his drivers cop an unfair share of the blame for the highway carnage. As Linfox has a strict zerotolerance to alcohol and drug use among its drivers, Mr Byrne said the same should be extended to all drivers. ‘‘Last year we did 7400 random drug tests with 29 failures,’’ he said. Since zero tolerance was introduced in 2003, Linfox driving accidents were down 60 per cent. Mr Byrne said the average motorist undervalued truck drivers’ skills and had little appreciation of the job’s difficulties. ‘‘A truck can weigh 62.5 tonnes and it doesn’t stop like a onetonne car does,’’ he said. ‘‘Our drivers are taught to give as much separation as possible between them and a car in front, so a truck will sit about 100m to 150m behind. Other drivers will see the space and jump in.’’
■ The level of drowsiness is measured according to a universal measure developed by researchers at the company over 15 years ■ Optalert allows drivers to see their ﬂuctuating drowsiness level on a dash mounted indicator as a score from 0 to 10 ■ The higher the score, the drowsier a driver is. This allows drivers to monitor and manage their drowsiness when it ﬁrst appears ■ Visual and audio warnings are triggered as soon as the driver shows signs of drowsiness
exclusive Joe Hildebrand HI-TECH glasses that ‘‘read’’ a driver’s fatigue level and ring an alarm if they are too tired could be rolled out across the NSW trucking industry. Transport Minister David Campbell said the Government was investigating whether to make the technology mandatory for the long-haul freight industry, amid claims from Optalert’s Australian inventors that it could prevent up to 90 per cent of accidents caused by fatigue.
Fatigue is a major concern for long-distance truck drivers, with a third of accident linked to tiredness. Optalert senior scientist Andrew Tucker said most drivers in company-led focus groups admitted to having fallen asleep at the wheel. The Optalert system, revealed in The Daily Telegraph’s Big Wheels section last month, uses sensors in a pair of glasses that detect eyelid movement and sets off an alarm if it becomes too slow, indicating drowsiness. Under the system’s 10-point scale, a medium-risk alarm set off at a level of 4.5 to 5 indicates the driver is about as impaired as a motorist with a blood alcohol content of about .05.
■ This allows drivers to take suitable measures and potentially save their life and the lives of other road users Any higher than five and a loud high-risk alert goes off. Several trucking and mining companies are already using the system, including Linfox, Toll, BHP Billiton and Sutherlands. Mr Campbell said the RTA was aware of the technology and examining whether it should be made compulsory for long-haul heavy vehicle users. ‘‘I am advised the RTA continues to look at the practical application for this technology and if it can be employed as a road safety tool,’’ he said. Mr Campbell said the Government would not be rushing into a decision: ‘‘No technology should be seen as an alternative to other methods of fatigue management, including limiting driving hours.’’
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