- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2008

MILWAUKEE | Trucking companies should work harder to enforce that their drivers get rest, and the government should move toward mandating the use of alarm systems to alert exhausted truckers, a federal board recommends.

While drivers are ultimately responsible for getting enough rest, trucking companies and the government also should make the nation’s roads safer by studying fledgling technology that would keep drivers alert, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said.

The board hearing Tuesday in Washington was streamed live on the Internet. It was held in response to an early morning crash in western Wisconsin three years ago in which a bus carrying a high school band slammed into an overturned semitrailer, killing five people.

NTSB investigators concluded that the truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and began to drift off the interstate’s shoulder. When he swerved back onto the road, the rig overturned. The bus then plowed into the truck.

Some technology still in the early stages eventually may prevent such fatigue-induced crashes, NTSB investigator Jana Price told the board.

For example, a dashboard-mounted camera that tracks a driver’s eye and eyelid movements could alert a driver who appears to be falling asleep.

“That can be useful since drivers are often unaware of their own fatigue,” she said.

Tiredness is a factor in about one in eight large-truck crashes, Miss Price said.

The Wisconsin crash occurred around 2 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2005, on Interstate 94 near Osseo. The NTSB found that the brakes on the bus had not been properly maintained but said poor visibility meant that the bus driver couldn’t have avoided the rig even if the brakes were in ideal condition.

Bus driver Paul Rasmus was among the dead.

The driver of the semitrailer, Michael Kozlowski, of Schererville, Ind., was not seriously hurt. Last year, a jury acquitted him of negligent homicide, causing great bodily harm by reckless driving and causing injury in the crash.

Mr. Kozlowski’s attorney, Daniel A. Haws, said his client was simply driving too fast when he tried to pull over to relieve himself. The defense blamed the crash on Mr. Rasmus, claiming he was overtired and didn’t see the overturned truck because of vision problems.

NTSB investigators said their research suggested that Mr. Kozlowski did fall asleep. Onboard equipment indicated that the truck left the road at a gradual angle without slowing, and witnesses reported seeing the truck drift, investigator David Rayburn said.

Mr. Haws said the NTSB’s arguments had been dismissed by the jury in the criminal trial.

“The evidence they use to say he fell asleep, the jury heard the exact same thing and said they didn’t believe it,” he said.

Mr. Kozlowski was on a 430-mile trip to haul groceries for Whole Foods Market Group. The crash occurred after he traveled about 320 miles from Munster, Ind., to St. Paul, Minn.

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