Bus Driver Fatigue: A Fatal Threat

The memory of the fatal freight train derailment that occurred this past July in the scenic Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic lingers as an unnecessary tragedy. Measuring 1.5 kilometres in length, the New Brunswick-bound, 74-car, unmanned freight which belonged to the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) Railway Ltd., was travelling at excessive speeds, carrying a highly flammable cargo of crude oil. The derailment resulted in a devastating explosion leaving 47 casualties in its charred wake.

On December 30th, 2012, a Vancouver-based tour bus plummeted down a steep embankment in Oregon, leaving 9 dead. The bus, owned by Mi Joo Tour and Travel Ltd., was returning to British Columbia after a nine-day tour of Las Vegas. Of the many suspected causes, one hit an alarming note: driver fatigue.

Accidents such as these  bring transportation safety issues to the forefront of the public’s mind and put it into the political sphere.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1624 has been one of the voices calling for improved policies and safer limits on transportation and most specifically on the rules governing drivers in the motor coach vehicle transportation industry.

A safety audit of the December 30th accident revealed certain discrepancies with the tour operator’s records. According to the audit, the company did not properly log its drivers’ time behind the wheel. “There are serious concerns regarding record keeping for hours of service. The carrier does not monitor the hours of service and no supporting documents were provided at the time of the audit.” Consequently, officials revoked the company’s license.

Record keeping is an essential component of a driver’s daily work requirements. According to Motor Coach Canada’s Bus Driver’s Handbook, “accurate records must be kept to account for every hour of the day.” Such records enable the driver, as well as the company, “to keep track of hours to prevent violations” and “for enforcement officers to determine compliance at roadside or during facility audits.”

Each year, the industry is tasked with safely driving millions of Canadians from city to city. According to the ATU Local 1624, there are 1510 bus lines in Canada. Each motor coach vehicle can carry between 40 and 80 passengers.

Due to the pressures from some operators, driver fatigue has become an increasingly important area of concern. “A driver’s day usually consists of 16 hours; 13 of those are hours that are physical driving behind the wheel leaving only 8 hours between shifts.” If you think about it, that is not sufficient time for workers to drive back to their residence, sleep and drive back to work the following day. And, according to ATU, the cycle can continue for up to 14 consecutive days and thus causing severe fatigue.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety  states, “research studies have shown that when workers have slept for less than 5 hours before work or when workers have been awake for more than 16 hours, their chance of making mistakes at work due to fatigue are significantly increased.”