A study of what kind of behavior leads to distracted driving and drowsiness among truck and bus drivers finds that dancing, talking and singing actually help drivers keep alert.
Researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute conducted the study for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and it offers some good news for a change regarding the behavior of commercial drivers when they are on the job.
“Key findings from the study showed an overall decrease in cell phone use compared to previous research,” the report said.
“Hands-free cell phone use was found to be protective as it likely helps drivers alleviate boredom, while hand-held cell phone use was found to be risky as it takes the driver’s attention away from driving tasks,” according to the researchers.
The study gathered data from five video cameras surrounding the driver in the cab. Various channels of kinematic data also were continuously gathered to monitor driver behavior, which helped identify safety critical events (SCEs) that occurred following certain kinds of driver behavior.
More than 3.8 million miles of data were collected from seven fleets and from 10 locations and a total of 43 buses, 73 bus drivers, 182 trucks and 172 truck drivers participated in the program.
It found that browsing and texting on a cell phone created an increased risk of an SCE. Other dangerous behavior included reaching for object; interacting with an electronic dispatching device or other electronic device; and adjusting/monitoring other devices integral to the vehicle.
Other risks arose from drivers reacting to external distractions; reaching for food- or drink-related items; and removing or adjusting clothing.
“The results show that dancing is protective for both bus and truck drivers,” the researchers said. “Talking/singing was also found to be protective
for truck drivers. This could have been talking or singing to the radio, themselves or surrounding traffic. Neither talking nor singing requires a high visual load, so these results are not surprising.”
Also looked at were the times when drivers were likely to get drowsy. One limitation of the study was that only short haul and regional fleets took part and no long-haul fleets were involved.
Among the drivers who participated in the study, there was a significant increase in risk associated with increasing hours of driving. As time goes by behind the wheel, the SCE risk rate increased two to three times higher than in the first hour, hitting peak value at the eighth hour.
The results also showed multiple peaks in the occurrence of SCEs, which were found in the second, third and ninth hours of driving. On the other hand, there was no pattern of increasing drowsiness after the eighth or ninth hour.
However, the researchers noted that the results showed no pattern of increasing drowsiness with driving hours. However, the timing and duration of the driver’s breaks could impact driving behavior, and the time of the day of the trip also seems to affect drivers’ drowsiness, they concluded.
“A deeper investigation of the drowsiness data revealed that although most truck drivers with long shifts begin their shift in the very early morning hours, fatigue is highest in systematic baselines and SCEs from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m.” the researchers said.
“While there was not a statistically significant difference in the third driving hour for systematic baselines and ninth driving hour for SCEs, it appears that time of day and the driver’s natural circadian rhythm may play a role in their drowsiness.”
Another surprise was that poor road conditions seemed to have less effect. Most of the SCEs occurred in daylight, with no adverse conditions, on non-junction roadways, and on divided roadways.