Keeping Truckers' Eyes On The Road

frisbees AP Photo

Driving across America's highways, truck drivers have one constant companion: fatigue.

"Mile marker after mile marker after mile marker. Just watching the white lines roll by. It can actually lull you to sleep," said Gary Richard, who has logged 2 million miles in 20 years as a truck driver. "You'll feel burning in your eyes, that desire just to go to sleep."

While there's no question fatigue causes accidents, the danger is hard to quantify, reports CBS News Transportation Correspondent Bob Orr. The trucking industry says tired truckers play a role in 6 percent of crashes but a National Transportation Safety Board study of crashes where the trucker died put the fatigue number at 31 percent.

Pitt Ohio, a Pittsburgh-based trucking company, has teamed up with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Consortium to test their latest innovation: a dashboard-mounted camera that monitors eyelid movement.

The Operator Alertness System, or OASYS, alerts drowsy truck drivers when their eyelids start drooping. The system sounds an alarm, warning drivers that it's time to pull over and rest.

A camera and computer monitors the truck's movements inside its traffic lane and sounds another alarm if the driver starts to drift. And a "super" power-steering system keeps the driver from fighting the steering wheel to keep the truck on track.

"That repetitive fighting the wheel and cross winds and washed out roads...it does take its toll on a driver," explains Pitt Ohio driver Gary Richard.

But, it could be a while before this technology really hits the road. It's not required, some trucking companies may not want to pay for it, and some drivers are leery of the idea of having cameras in their trucks.

Even supporters of the technology say it has its limits.

"I don't believe there's there's a silver bullet out there that is going to solve all our problems," says Susan Coughlin, a trucking safety consultant. "We're still going to have to have good enforcement, and we are still going to have to have good education."

For now, fatigue prevention largely relies on the judgment of drivers who are constantly under pressure to balance safety against the demand to get there on time.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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