What is fatigue’ The question hangs at the center of a controversy brewing in Minnesota and Indiana.
The two states are taking a stab at defining what that word means – and taking action based on their definition – through use of an interview and the associated Fatigued Driving Evaluation Checklist.
The checklist was created by Capt. Ken Urquhart, a District Commander with the Minnesota State Patrol in the Commercial Enforcement Division.
Urquhart has been part of Commercial Enforcement since 1997, roughly 12 years. Three years after he joined, he was named the commander of the division.
In the interest of fairness, we wanted to give Capt. Urquhart the chance to respond to some of the concerns others had raised about the checklist, and the process that checklist is part of.
So we called the captain for a talk.
At times, Urquhart was explanatory, at times defensive of his division’s system, at times evasive, or even combative.
But in talking about how he first became involved in the state’s anti-fatigue efforts, he got straight to the point.
“Well, this started quite a long time ago. I personally got involved in this long before we rolled the program out here. In fact, I was attending a command and leadership program through Northwestern University. And one of the options in the program is to do a research project. I did my research project on driver alertness and put together a lot of research on that, and I got quite interested in it. Of course, in the division here, one of the regulations that is in place – and has been in place a long time – is in Chapter 49 CFR. If the driver is too ill – not paraphrasing, of course – if the driver is too ill or fatigued to operate the commercial vehicle safely, then they’re subject to an out of service order, or enforcement.”
At one point, Urquhart said he was working with researchers to find some test or technological tool that could help his officers determine whether fatigue is present.
“We conducted a joint research project with our center for transportation studies at the University of Minnesota to look at were there any technologies that might be able to assist us in making these determinations at the roadside. We evaluated a couple of different technologies through their human factors lab, and weren’t able to come up with any of them that could be conclusive for us to use as tools.”
He said he then moved toward development of the process used now – the process that involves the use of the checklist.
Urquhart said that process was developed using research. However, when asked what research was involved in developing the process, or how it was developed, Urquhart instead contended that the list alone is not used to determine fatigue.
“Well, really, what you’re looking at there is a very small part of our program. So it’s, all that you’re looking at there is an indicator list that our enforcement folks use to record their observations. We don’t use that as the tool to, or any one of those items on that list, to make their decision, so to speak, on whether a driver may be alert enough to operate … their vehicle. And I think that’s been a misnomer from time to time. I’ve got calls from motor carriers, and they go, what does this specific item on the list mean’ Well, any one item in its entirety means nothing in itself.”
Urquhart went on to describe how a combination of factors could determine fatigue – such as a sleeper berth that looked as if it had not been used.
But when pressed further, instead of noting what specifically on the list – or what interview questions or answers represented on the list – could put a driver out of service, he instead pointed to cases where fatigue was obvious, even without the use of any list.
Urquhart: “One of