Fatigue is a major safety hazard for all drivers, rivalling the effects of excessive speed and drug and alcohol consumption. Even a split-second mental lapse can result in serious injuries or fatalities. If a driver falls asleep for just four seconds while travelling at a speed of 100 km/h the vehicle will have covered 111 metres without a driver in control. Research from the Transport Accident Commission shows about 20 per cent of fatal road collisions involve driver fatigue.
The Australian government and police have invested heavily in educating the public around the dangers of drink driving and it’s no longer accepted by society. Fatigue presents the same safety risks as drink driving – drivers who have been awake for 24 hours perform like somebody with a blood/alcohol content reading of 0.1g/100ml (or double the open class limit) – yet it doesn’t carry the same social stigma.
While the need to tackle driver fatigue within the road transport industry may seem obvious, it’s very difficult for transport operators to regulate and enforce. Tired drivers don’t intentionally cause disruption or harm; it’s simply the excessive amount of time spent behind the wheel that creates risk.
How did we get here?
Driver fatigue management is a crucial part of work health and safety in the transport industry. The larger the mass or weight of a vehicle, the greater potential disruption it causes. At the centre of fatigue management laws is a primary duty that says a driver must not drive any vehicle while impaired by fatigue. With everybody in the Chain of Responsibility legally obliged to take all reasonable and practical steps to prevent driver fatigue, accountability for managing adequate rest breaks no longer sits solely with the driver.
What is fatigue?
Fatigue is a natural phenomenon triggered by physiological factors – not getting enough sleep, driving at night and working for long periods of time. Ideally, we need between seven and eight hours of good quality sleep each night. Those with less build up sleep deficit. Driving while impaired by fatigue means you’re seven times more likely to have a collision.
How can we improve management of work hours?
Fatigue is one of the most highly regulated aspects of the transport industry. From a safety standpoint, every individual needs to understand why fatigue management matters. Certifying driver compliance with fatigue management policies will make our roads safer for all users. Yet monitoring a driver’s work diary presents challenges. Past experiences have clearly shown that logbooks are not always accurate, they’re open to misinterpretations and can easily be falsified by drivers.
The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) will introduce EWDs as a voluntary alternative to written work diaries in 2017. EWDs help your business remain compliant with complex fatigue management laws, allowing back-office staff to monitor driver behaviour and journey progression, while empowering drivers to make the right decisions about when to take a break.
Better management of driver fatigue and compliance with the relevant laws will help reduce the injuries and deaths that result from tired driving. This is ultimately at the heart of what regulators are aiming to achieve with fatigue management.