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Fatigue is a Major Cause in Truck Crashes

Tuesday, October 08, 2013 by Chris Hocking

Truck Crashes and Fatigue

As heavy vehicle transportation across the road network continues to grow within Australia and internationally, crash rates remain high with heavy vehicles often over-represented in road fatalities. The mass and rigidity of heavy vehicles can contribute to the severity of truck crashes, particularly those involving collision with another vehicle. Consequently, when heavy vehicles are involved, injury risk to all road users is high.

truck crashes due to fatigue

Fatigue is recognised as a major risk factor for all drivers and a known contributing factor to road crashes, rivalling the effects of speed and alcohol.Driver fatigue affects everyone and can strike at any time, no matter how experienced the driver.Estimates suggest fatigue is a factor in up to 30% of fatal crashes and 15% of serious injury crashes. Within the heavy vehicle industry, fatigue is thought to have contributed to approximately 25% of insurance losses.

Driver fatigue is difficult to identify or recognise as contributing to a crash because, unlike alcohol or drugs, there is no test for fatigue. This means it's likely the role of fatigue in accidents is under-represented in statistics.

It is important to note driver fatigue can also interact with other factors to cause crashes, such as alcohol and speed. For instance, statistics published by National Transport Insurance (NTI) indicate 42% of heavy vehicle crashes involved both fatigue and inappropriate speed.

While there is little doubt professional long-haul truck drivers are highly skilled drivers, skill cannot overcome the biological need for sleep. The risks associated with fatigue are greater for these drivers primarily because of the nature and demands of the job. The particular job demands of the long-haul truck driver often interfere with opportunities for normal rest. Transport industry work practices typically include working long hours, prolonged night work, working irregular hours, little or poor quality sleep, and early start times.

A recent report by the National Truck Accident Research Centre (NTARC) confirmed the midnight to daybreak period continues to be the highest risk period, accounting for more than half (52%) of all fatigue-related truck crashes. This is certainly not surprising as driving at times of the day when your body would normally be sleeping can disrupt the body's natural sleep-wake cycle, which can have detrimental effects of performance and safety. As we have mentioned in previous blogs, shift work includingevening will have pronounced negative effects on sleep, sleepiness, performance and crash-risk. The misalignment between internal body clock physiology and the required wakefulness-sleep-work-rest schedule, invariably leads to impaired performance when awake and disturbed sleep.

The NTARC report also suggested the effects of fatigue may be ongoing rather than only present at night or at the end of a long shift or roster period. The report found approximately 70% of truck accidents are happening on outbound journeys, raising the possibility drivers commencing their shift may not be well rested and unfit for duty. The findings show drivers may not be getting sufficient sleep and rest on their off days and coming to work just as fatigued as those drivers coming off a week on the road.

Fatigue Management for Truck Drivers

Fatigued drivers have slowed reaction times and a reduced ability to assess situations quickly. Research has shown most people (including professional drivers) are often unable to assess their own fatigue levels accurately and unaware when their performance has degraded. When driving a heavy vehicle at highway speeds, any delay in reacting to a potentially dangerous situation can be disastrous.

With the significant growth projected in the heavy vehicle transportation industry, truck crashes attributable to fatigue will increase unless appropriate preventative action is taken. Fatigue management training for truck drivers has been shown to be effective in reducing the number of fatigue related accidents. To illustrate the importance of such training, a recent study by Curtin University found truck drivers who had not completed fatigue management training were six times more likely to be involved in an accident.

Fatigue management training for truck drivers provides essential skills and knowledge required to effectively manage their own personal fatigue, improve awareness, and understand the importance of sleep heath and how lifestyle choices impact on fatigue levels. Effective management of fatigue is not the responsibility of the driver alone; employers, employees and all parties in the supply chain have a legal responsibility to manage driver fatigue.

While regulatory and organisational approaches inclucinglimits to hours of duty, education, and training are essential foreffective fatigue management, technology that can detect the first signs of fatigue can be used to complement and enhance existing fatigue management approaches.

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By Dr Andrew Tucker
General Manager Scientific Research

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