Truck drivers falling asleep at the wheel may soon become a thing of the past thanks to new technology that sounds an alarm and vibrates the seat if the trucker nods off.
FleetSafe NZ, in partnership with American technology firm Seeing Machines, has brought the Driver Safety System (DSS) to New Zealand.
The fatigue monitoring system has sensor equipment mounted to the dashboard that observes the driver's face, tracks head alignment for potential distraction and analyses eye behaviour to detect micro sleeps.
When the device detects abnormal activity, alarms activate in the cabin, the driver's chair vibrates violently and an alert is sent to Seeing Machine's 24-hour office in Arizona who then alert the company's dispatch office.
The company can then contact the driver. Taranaki-based Symons Transport is one of three companies testing the system and is reaching the end of 60-day trial, using the devices in five trucks.
Transport manager Murray Symons said he'd been impressed with the results.
"It allows our guys to check up on them and make sure everyone's feeling alright and suggest pulling over, having a break and freshening up or even putting them into a hotel for a night and sending another driver," Symons said.
"It's more about prevention than reaction." Symons said some drivers were initially sceptical of the technology but once they realised they weren't continuously being watched, they've all got on board.
If all goes to plan, Symons hopes to roll out the technology across his 50-truck fleet early next year at a cost of $150 a truck each month.
General manager of FleetSafe NZ, Charles Dawson, said the system helped companies uncover undiagnosed sleep apnoea, a condition that affects roughly one in three drivers.
"You can do everything in your power with scheduling, dietary requirements and sleep routines, but if you have just one bad night's sleep that can become a danger."
He would like Seeing Machine technology in every professional driver's cabins.
The device comes after Waikato truck driver Albert Pahina was disqualified from driving for two months and ordered to do 120 hours of community work after admitting to driving for 27 hours non-stop.
He previously pleaded guilty to seven charges, including exceeding the 13-hour work limit, failing to rest and false log-book entries.
Commercial vehicle investigation unit Senior Sergeant Lex Soepnel said the case sat at the top end of similar cases and that driving for hours on end without a break was as bad as driving drunk.
Figures released this week showed truck drivers were to blame for 46 per cent of crashes involving their rigs in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty in the 30 months to June 30.