Fatigue Management Grounds for Heavy Vehicles

Monday, November 18, 2013 by James Gorry

Grounds for Heavy Vehicles

Fatigue management for drivers or 'drowsy driving' is a significant issue for the road transport industry and can be a significant safety hazard for them and other drivers on the road. There are many causes of 'drowsy driving' with the most common being too little sleep, driving at times when you would normally be asleep and working or being awake for very long hours.

Australia recently developed national reforms to combat heavy vehicle driver fatigue. The laws are for drivers of fatigue regulated heavy vehicles.The laws state a driver must not drive on the road while impaired by fatigue and all parties in the supply chain, including on and off-road parties, and must take all reasonable steps to prevent the fatigue of heavy vehicle drivers. This is meant to take the responsibility from the driver alone, as it has been widely reported pressures are often placed on the driver to deliver goods within an unreasonable time frame. These laws are similar to occupational health and safety laws and mean drivers must stop if they are feeling tired and take short-term fatigue measures such as rest breaks.

The fatigue laws cover:

  • working hours
  • work diaries
  • fatigue management accreditation schemes
  • chain of responsibility

New Fatigue Management Regime Pros and Cons

Fatigue is becoming more widely recognised as a major cause of road accidents. Recently an Australian truck driver was found guilty and was jailed for five years for the culpable driving in the fatigue-related death of a motorist on September 30, 2010. The court found this tragedy could have been prevented if the driver had rested more in the lead up to the accident. The driver had taken only three periods of "refreshing sleep" across the previous four days, the last of which was more than 27 hours before the crash. We know driving after being awake for more than 17 hours is similar to having a blood alcohol content of .05 – the legal Australian limit. Driving after 24 hours is similar to having a blood alcohol content of .1. At the time of the accident therefore, the driver had reaction times similar to a blood alcohol content of more than .1. However, like blood alcohol content, we know two people who sleep the same amount can record different alertness levels. This can be due to the quality of sleep they have, other factors such as caffeine consumption and other external factors.

If the introduction of these regulations prevents similar road tragedies from occurring, they will be seen as an effective tool for drivers and their companies, but should not be relied upon to prevent all fatigue-related fatalities. Introducingregulations makes drivers more aware of their obligations, but drivers with similar sleep patterns and exercise habits may adjust differently to fatigue management plans, and will therefore not experience the same alertness levels while driving. It is important therefore, drivers who are feeling fatigued while driving, still self-manage their fatigue levels, even though they are complying with work and rest limits imposed through legislation. They can use a variety of proven techniques to help keep themselves stay more alert in the short term such as short breaks, and caffeine consumption. Importantly though, the only real cure for drowsiness is sleep.

James Gorry
Vice President Global Sales

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