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Driving hour reforms fail to curb fatigue incidents

A significant chunk of the trucking industry blames the 2008 reforms to driving hours for a rise in fatigue-related incidents

By Brad Gardner | September 26, 2013

The rate of fatigue-related incidents has increased since 2006, and a significant chunk of the trucking industry blames the changes made to driving hours in 2008 for the rise.

A survey of 500 truck drivers and 400 freight firms from across the country carried out in April and May last year, and released this month, has found drivers experienced a rise in fatigue-related incidents between 2006 and 2012.

The rate of drivers reporting crossing over lane lines, near misses, running off the road and colliding with something due to fatigue all increased when compared to the results of a baseline survey carried out in 2006.

Close to half of the drivers surveyed (45 per cent) considered fatigue management regulations were a major contributor to their fatigue, up from 36 per cent in 2006.

The survey found that 77 per cent of the companies quizzed, which included freight operators, freight forwarders and ancillary heavy vehicle firms, believed sticking to working hours regulations was a minor contributor to fatigue.

“Many drivers also considered that driver fatigue had become more of a problem ‘over the last five years’,” the study, carried out by the National Transport Commission (NTC), states.

“Key issues nominated by drivers were around perceptions that working hours regulations ‘forced’ them to drive when tired and rest when not tired [and] deadlines and timeslots were unrealistic.”

Changes to fatigue management regulations were drawn up in 2006 and introduced in September 2008 with the aim of improving road safety and reducing fatigue-related crashes and incidents.

The reforms introduced a new work diary and 12-hour and 14-hour work modules, along with the advanced fatigue management (AFM) scheme that permitted drivers to work up to 15 or 16 hours a day depending on which jurisdiction they were in.

Of the drivers surveyed, 49 per cent reported crossing over lane lines in the previous 12 months – a 19 per cent increase compared to 2006.

The rate of near misses among drivers climbed from 34 per cent to 45 per cent, while the number of those who reported nodding off behind the wheel momentarily was 36 per cent (35 per cent in 2006).

There was a 6 per cent increase in drivers saying they had run off the road (14 per cent), with the amount of drivers reporting having collided with something doubling to 14 per cent.

The number of drivers who reported feeling exhausted at the end of the day peaked at 67 per cent – a 16 per cent increase over six years.

Furthermore 37 per cent of drivers reported losing concentration, up from 16 per cent, while 54 per cent mentioned having heavy/tired eyes (compared to 39 per cent previously).

“Many of the driving incidents and symptoms of fatigue were more likely to be reported by drivers who experienced fatigue on trips than those who did not,” the survey says.

The number of incidents where drivers over- or under-steered stayed the same at 25 per cent, but the number of those who reported braking late increased by six per cent to 33 per cent.

However, the survey did report a 14 per cent decline in the number of drivers who reported experiencing fatigue on some or all of their trips. Despite this, the rate in 2012 was still high at 72 per cent.

“Few drivers, however, considered that fatigue was a substantial problem for them personally, and almost all drivers considered that they managed their fatigue well,” the survey says.

“Even among those drivers who reported experiencing fatigue, many were unwilling to acknowledge that fatigue was actually a problem for them.”

The majority of companies (80 per cent) and drivers (68 per cent) felt fatigue was managed well in the industry.

In a positive sign for authorities, less than half (46 per cent) of drivers reported non-compliance with fatigue regulations – a drop of 16 per cent since 2006.

The survey says the main reasons drivers gave for non-compliance mirrored the responses from 2006.

“These reasons included not being able to reach adequate rest facilities, tight schedules and to keep their job,” it says.

Rest areas were the main reason for non-compliance, with 76 per cent of drivers saying they breached regulations to find an adequate spot to pull over (up from 42 per cent in 2006).

The second most common reason for non-compliance drivers gave was returning home – 62 per cent in 2012 compared to 45 per cent in 2006.

Only 5 per cent of companies and 15 per cent of drivers surveyed felt taking drugs to stay awake was helpful. Drivers who supported the use of drugs reported amphetamines and caffeine tablets were the most effective.

The results of the survey form part of the NTC’s Heavy Vehicle Compliance Review, which makes a number of recommendations to encourage, promote and enforce compliance in the industry.

A survey covering chain of responsibility was also carried out in 2006 and 2012, with the results also used to inform the NTC’s review.

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