For the long-haul truckers that stay away from their families for days at a stretch, fatigue and physical discomfort are some of the most commonly shared realities of being behind the wheel.
In some cases, hours-of-service (HoS) regulations have weighed into this issue with unintended consequences. Truckers routinely are left stranded on the side of highways as their HOS clocks run out of time – even when they know full well that they would reach a town with an additional 10-minute drive. Such situations force drivers to sleep in their cab and go without proper access to food or facilities, leading to issues with fatigue and restlessness.
To prevent accidents due to fatigue, fleets are increasingly installing driver-facing cameras that help track signs of exhaustion on the driver’s face via visual intelligence platforms. Alarms are sounded when the cameras notice the driver’s eyelids remaining closed for an instant longer than usual, helping avert accidents.
However, one of the major shortfalls of using a camera is the inability to prevent accidents during the split second between recognition of a driver losing control the sounding of an alarm to wake the driver waking, and the driver taking evasive action. For a trucker driving at an average speed of 65 mph, the split second of losing control could be a matter of life and death.
To completely eliminate the probability of a trucker losing consciousness behind the wheel, it is vital to understand behavioral patterns of a trucker who is about to experience fatigue and point out such scenarios to drivers before they let fatigue set in. The most efficient way to do this is by measuring the electroencephalogram or the “EEG.”
EEG signals are measured by placing it in a headband around the head of truckers. EEG signals help understand brain wave patterns of drivers, which can be used to accurately predict when a driver is feeling fatigued.
Daniel Bongers, the CTO of Smartcap, a fatigue prediction startup, explained that drivers losing consciousness behind the wheel is a natural progression of fatigue towards unintended sleep. “The reason EEG is used to measure alertness and fatigue is because it is the most direct measure there is, as we’re directly identifying activity within the brain instead of monitoring eye movement or sleep history patterns,” he said.
Bongers pointed out that the idea was to identify “microsleeps” – the short, unintended sleep while driving – through the EEG signals, and alert drivers before they recourse into the pattern that initiates microsleep.
“Because we measure it at the source, we can evaluate a driver’s ability to resist sleep on a wide spectrum of measurement – from a very alert state to the microsleep event,” said Bongers. “Using that data, we alert the driver before he gets to the point of lapsing into unintended sleep. So when we provide a warning, the driver would not have done anything wrong, and in fact, will not even have a confirmed point of risk. We identify drivers even while they are heading towards a point of fatigue risk.”
Once the early warning is sounded, the driver is advised to do something that helps them relax – like stretching on the seat, pulling to the side and walking around a bit, or even eating an apple for a break. Bongers explained that with such systems in place, companies can create rules that necessitate drivers to continue driving only when the software’s alertness scores show that they are not fatigued.
“Drivers can take actions to proactively manage their fatigue risk before they get to the point of sleep. Measuring the EEG signals help empower drivers to manage their fatigue,” said Bongers.
Over his years talking with drivers, Bongers mentioned that the startup contends with drivers who are concerned if the fatigue data would be used against them by their employers when they realize they are easily fatigued.
“We put a lot of focus into engaging with trucking businesses to remind them that fatigue happens to everyone and that it’s a reality,” said Bongers. “Oftentimes, a regular pattern of fatigue is not the driver’s fault – it might be a medical issue, a simple lifestyle choice that induces fatigue, or an environmental issue like improper air conditioning within the cab. We remind businesses that drivers simply need assistance to overhaul fatigue and that it is vital to work with drivers and push processes that benefit them.”
Ultimately, measuring brain waves would serve to help the truckers, as it completely eliminates the risk of drivers crashing their trucks due to microsleep or fatigue. “The only difference between falling asleep at the wheel and waking up safe versus falling asleep at the wheel and then crashing the truck is luck,” said Bongers.