New Wearable Technology Potentially Allows Life-Saving Intervention
On Saturday, June 7, 2014, comedians Tracy Morgan and James “Jimmy Mack” McNair were involved in a car accident on the New Jersey Turnpike when an eighteen-wheeler, owned by Walmart, slammed into their bus from behind. Morgan sustained lasting injuries, including brain trauma, while McNair didn’t survive the crash at all.
The driver of the truck, Kevin Roper, had been awake for over twenty-four hours, but technically he was still working within the legal limits of fourteen hours of work. What that legal limit did not take into consideration was the fact that Roper had made the twelve-hour drive from his home in Georgia to a Walmart facility in Delaware before he even set foot behind the wheel of the eighteen-wheeler.
This drive was, of course, off the clock, but when coupled with his driving for work, it forced him to be awake for more than twenty-four hours straight. Much like driving while drunk, driving while fatigued— especially on limited sleep—impairs reaction time. When Morgan and McNair’s bus slowed due to roadwork ahead, Roper couldn’t slow his own vehicle fast enough to avoid the collision.
It has been over a year since this accident, so why revisit it? For one thing, according to a an op-ed piece recently published in The New York Times, crashes like Roper’s are still happening.
Author Howard Abramson writes: “The death toll in truck-involved crashes rose 17 percent from 2009 to 2013. Fatalities in truck-involved crashes have risen four years in a row, reaching 3,964 in 2013, the latest data available. Those crashes are killing not only car drivers but also, during 2013 alone, 586 people who were truck drivers or passengers.”
Abramson details all the ways that Congress is allowing these accidents to happen by “coddling” the trucking industry. For instance, Congress has rolled back safety measures like the installation of wireless technology to better monitor drivers and trucks or the mandate that drivers take off two consecutive early morning periods to rest. In Abramson’s mind, the solution is tougher policies and less coddling.
However, Congress can be slow to change its mind, and at the moment, the trucking industry in America needs to take the initiative to protect their drivers and the people around them. What if there were an easier way to prevent accidents like Roper’s?
There is. It involves utilizing the latest wearable technology to be proactive rather than reactive about accidents.
Friday, June 6, 2014, Roper rolls out of bed in his Georgia home and rubs his eyes, giving himself a moment to prepare for the long drive to Delaware. He looks down at his wrist and the sleek smartwatch there that has been monitoring his rest. He climbs into his car and makes the exhausting trip north. Once at the Walmart facility in Delaware, he goes to pick up his truck.
Roper gets comfortable in the driver’s seat, rubs his eyes again, and the eighteen-wheeler rumbles to life. His cell phone rings. Turning off the noisy truck, Roper takes a few minutes to talk to one of Walmart’s safety managers who is concerned about the amount of sleep Roper has received in the past day. They decide it would be much safer if Roper got a cup of coffee and did a shorter drive or maintenance work for the day instead.
That night, Morgan and McNair make it home to their families because the better-rested Walmart employee driving the eighteen-wheeler slows down quickly enough to avoid the collision. There are no medics called to the New Jersey Turnpike, no expensive lawsuits in the following months between Morgan and Walmart, no grieving of loved ones. It is not just Morgan and McNair who are spared, though. The use of these smartwatches increases the safety of everyone on the road.
Gaining this newfound safety is so easy. Truck drivers wear the watches when they are resting or sleeping; the watches monitor the quantity and quality of sleep and send this data to a secure analytics platform. Safety managers at the drivers’ workplace view the data and are alerted to high-risk drivers before the drivers’ shifts start. The safety managers then pull high-risk workers off potentially dangerous tasks and recommend alternate tasks or even medical assistance for workers with repeatedly high-risk data.
Correctly utilizing wearable technology saves companies colossal amounts of money and time. Most importantly, though, it saves lives—lives like McNair’s. If Roper had been wearing a fatigue-management watch, the death of this celebrated comedian could have been prevented; McNair and Morgan could have gotten home safely that night and booked their next comedy show together—all thanks to a little piece of wearable technology. And that’s no laughing matter.