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Fatigue: Asking the right questions

Once your business starts monitoring driver fatigue, you’ll see lots of data. Devices like Seeing Machines don’t put drivers under constant surveillance. Instead, they’re tuned to activate and generate an alert when they identify specific indicators, such as eyes looking down or to the side, eyes closing, heads tilting and so on.

Those alerts generate data – and lots of it. But having data is one thing. Making good use of it is another.

Getting good value from your investment in driver monitoring systems (DMSes) hinges on three things:

  • getting valid data
  • understanding what it’s telling you 
  • using it to improve safety and reduce alerts 

Step one: valid data

For Adam Gibson, NTI’s Transport and Logistics Risk Engineer, the first data points to look at are what he calls ‘circumvention events’.

These are items or alerts such as ‘camera misaligned’, ‘camera out of focus’ or ‘facial features obscured’.

They might point to legitimate problems in the cab, such as a faulty unit or one that’s been accidentally knocked out of position. But they can also point to drivers deliberately circumventing the device.

Adam notes that “a ‘camera misaligned’ event can mean the camera is pointed at the roof. ‘Facial features obscured’ could mean the driver is wearing polarised sunglasses, a face mask and a deep-brimmed hat, while ‘operator out of position’ or ‘sensor covered’ could mean their hat is over the camera.”

Your data report will most likely include benchmarks that tell you the industry average for certain types of events. If you see that your ‘circumvention events’ are high but your driving events are low, you should treat your data as suspect.

“If your drivers are circumventing key safety technology, it’s a sign that you’ve got challenges with the roll-out, your business culture or both,” Adam says. “While it’s important to respond to what the data is telling you, make sure you identify the real issue and don’t just try to treat the symptoms.”

“When it comes to intentionally covering the camera, your company should have a policy. Circumvention should be treated with the utmost seriousness, and whatever the policy is, it must be rigorously applied.”

Step two: the right data

Once your data is in good shape, with few to no circumvention events, you can be confident that it’s accurately reflecting your drivers’ on-road behaviour. 

“Once you’re confident that your system is generating reliable data, you can start looking at what it’s telling you,” Adam says. 

We can group driver alerts into two broad categories: distraction events (distracted driving and mobile phone use) and sleep events (drowsiness and microsleeps).

Distraction events are within your drivers’ control – they indicate times when drivers aren’t paying enough attention to the task of driving.

Sleep events are a little more complex, as they may reflect underlying health or lifestyle problems, but nevertheless, they still must be managed and, ideally, eliminated.

Step three: the right approach

Communication is critical. Share high-level data with your drivers but keep conversations with individuals private. The goal is to use the data you’ve selected as a tool for safety improvement and driver coaching, not as a tool to discipline and punish your team.

“You have to set clear goals and track them over time,” Adam says. “And you can even incentivise your team. Find some way to give everyone a stake in it.”

Drivers generating distraction events should be counselled. Emphasise to them how important it is to stay focused on the driving task.

“When someone chooses to pick up their phone while driving,” Adam says, “they’re making a conscious choice. You should discuss that choice with them.”

Drivers generating sleep incidents should also be counselled. But in this case, their health and lifestyle are the key concerns. “Make sure your managers have a plan of how to have this conversation,” Adam says. “It should be ‘You had a micro-sleep event, can you tell us about it? Are you getting enough sleep?’ You need to have a referral pathway to sleep health and fitness.”

“You also need to a have a trusted relationship with your drivers so they can talk about sleep and exercise and diet.

“If you don’t, then it’s about improving communications and relationships inside your business.”

Bringing it all together

Whatever approach you take, make sure your team understands where they’re performing well and where they need to improve. Don’t single out drivers in front of their teammates but do have private conversations with them to check that they’re okay and see if you can offer any further support.

We’ve created a simple template to communicate key data points to your team. Use it, or one you created, to get the message across. The data doesn’t lie – and it can help you make your business safer, more efficient and a better place to work.


  1. This article has been developed as part of NTI’s The Business of Safety series with the aim of helping transport and logistics businesses become safer and more sustainable. The Business of Safety is funded by the NHVR’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative, supported by the Australian Government. Information in this document is a guide only. It does not take into account your personal or business circumstances. Whilst all due care has been taken, you must not rely on the information as an alternative to legal, legislated regulatory and compliance requirements associated with your business activities.   NTI.M002.24.15102021

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