Statement by Jim Hall
Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
1999 National Transportation Safety Conference
Washington, D.C., March 2, 1999

Effects of Fatigue Throughout the Industry


Good afternoon, I am pleased to be here with this distinguished panel to discuss operator fatigue. For more than a quarter of a century, the Safety Board has been addressing the problem of fatigue in transportation. In that time, we have made about 100 recommendations on this subject to operators and regulators asking for additional research as well as specific regulatory changes. Meetings such as this are important to review what progress has been made and what actions still need to be taken.

The Safety Board's accident investigations provide numerous examples of fatigue leading to accidents in every transportation mode, from a cargo airliner crash, to head-on train collisions, to pipeline accidents, to marine incidents such as the Exxon Valdez.

Such events result, at least in part, from a society that expects - and often demands - that goods be delivered anywhere in the country - and around the world - overnight.

· Many factories have adopted just-in-time delivery - in effect, making trucks moving warehouses.

· Airline pilots often fly a dozen legs in one day, and after a shortened rest period, do it again the next day.

· The average size of ships calling at U.S. ports has grown five-fold in the last 50 years, with crew size cut in half - meaning longer work periods and less time for crew rest.

The ramifications are clear - increased pressure on operators, shippers, brokers and drivers to keep vehicles moving and airplanes flying to meet sensitive schedules.

That's why it is so important to make sure that government regulations and industry practices reflect the most current research on fatigue. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Ten years ago, the Safety Board recognized the effects of fatigue, sleepiness, sleep disorders, and circadian factors on transportation system safety. We issued three recommendations to the DOT calling for a coordinated research effort, an extensive educational effort for all segments of the transportation industry, and a systematic review and improvement of regulations governing the hours of service in all modes.

As a result, DOT did develop a department-wide coordinated research program and made an effort to provide operators with educational materials on the need for good work and rest schedules and the importance of proper health, diet, and rest regimens.

The Department has fallen short, however, on updating hours-of-service regulations. The Safety Board is very disappointed in this lack of progress. The existing regulations are inconsistent, don't incorporate the latest research, and don't account for unpredictable and irregular schedules.

The chart on the screen shows just how inconsistent these rules are. The green bars represent the hours operators can work in the various modes. Even more distressing is the little amount of time off required following a duty period, as shown by the blue bars.

The DOT has been extremely slow in seeing that the regulations are revised:

Because of this inaction, the Safety Board has encouraged private industry to take the lead in fighting fatigue-related accidents and to implement solutions in existence today. I want to just give a few examples:

First, on-board recorders. These devices are necessary to enforce hours-of-service violations, identify safety trends, develop corrective actions, and conduct more efficient accident investigations. Although the heavy vehicle industry is using this technology for commercial purposes to monitor its equipment and cargo, it is not using this information to evaluate the safety of fleets or drivers. This issue has been on our Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements since 1990. In May, we are holding a symposium on the development and use of recorders in all modes. Our web site, www.ntsb.gov, has all of the details.

Second, strategic napping. Research has shown that short naps of 20- 40 minutes can be beneficial to the operator. Operators should be encouraged to integrate napping into their driving schedules.

Third, scheduling. Industry can develop schedules that allow operators to obtain at least 8 hours of continuous sleep and that keep them on a regular schedule. Just last week, we issued recommendations to the motor coach industry to encourage its operators to avoid scheduling inverted duty-sleep periods.

In mid-May, the Safety Board will review the status of its 1989 intermodal recommendations to DOT on fatigue and will analyze the status of the various hours-of-service regulations at a public Board meeting. We also plan to have a report that looks at the progress, or lack of progress, in each mode.

I look forward to discussing these issues in more detail.

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