New Technology Addresses Fatigue-Related Rail Accidents

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced that the probable cause of a major train crash in Iowa was driver fatigue. The crash killed two train workers when a coal freighter barreled into a stationary train near Red Oak. The coal train’s conductor and engineer did not survive. The NTSB investigation revealed that both crewmembers were asleep and therefore missed a signal alerting them to reduce speeds and ultimately stop before colliding with the stopped train.

Some feel that the American railroad industry has simply not gone far enough in addressing the issue of drowsy drivers, limiting train employees to shifts that don’t exceed 12 consecutive hours under the Federal Hours of Service Law. The rules do, however, permit drivers to be called back on duty within eight hours from the time their previous shift ended. If recent reports are any indication, fatigue remains a major problem across the world.

Genuine medical problems

The current federal law also doesn’t address medical issues such as sleep apnea, a breathing condition that prevents sufferers from enjoying restful sleep, which can result in frequent, involuntary micro-sleeps during waking hours. An undiagnosed case of this condition was at the root of a massive train crash in Boston a few years ago, which caused $8.6 million in damage and injured 50 people. Without adequate screening and monitoring, there’s no telling how many other sleep-related accidents could occur.

New fatigue detection technology

Technology may represent a promising solution to the problem of fatigue-related train workers. Specifically, a computer-based system using an algorithm to detect changes in the human face that indicate drowsiness may be able to warn drowsy drivers before they actually fall asleep. Unfortunately, the technology may be several years away from implementation, should an affordable version be developed for widespread use. In the meantime, the Association of American Railroads suggests that employers offer confidential sleep disorder screening and treatment, in addition to employee fatigue education programs.

Train accidents, sleep-related or otherwise, can be devastating for victims and their loved ones. An experienced legal team can help those affected minimize the financial strain such catastrophes create.

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