Call to explore drivers self-managing fatigue

By: Cobey Bartels

NRFA says Australian fatigue law changes will need to extend beyond just allowing split rest breaks

Call to explore drivers self-managing fatigue
Work diaries are here to stay, but what if you had a 10 per cent driving hours buffer?


A recent move in the United States is causing questions to be raised about Australia's current fatigue laws.

The Federal Motor Carrrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in the US is proposing a three-month program to study the safety implications of letting drivers split up their compulsory eight-hour sleep break.

The FMCSA wants to give around 200 truck drivers permission to split their eight-hour sleep break, and study their "safety performance and fatigue levels".

Currently in the US, drivers are forced to take an eight hour break in the sleeper, plus two extra consecutive hours off-duty before recommencing work.

In Australia, drivers from states participating in the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s (NHVR) Heavy Vehicle National Law (NHVL), all states except Western Australia and Northern Territory, under standard hours are bound by a seven-hour continuous stationary rest break every 24 hours.

A driver may be three hours from another eight hour rest break, absolutely exhausted, yet under the current Australian rules, many drivers may feel pushed to drive on.

The National Transport Hall of Famer and manager of truck accident research at NTI, Owen Driscoll, recently conveyed deep concerns surrounding an increase in fatigue-related accidents in Australia.

The NTI Major Accident Report, due to be launched next week, has outlined that at 12.2 per cent of total crashes, fatigue-related crashes are at their worst in a decade.

This comes as fatigue laws are at their tightest and work diaries are closely monitored and breaches enforced.

Owner operator with 43 years under his belt and vice president of the National Road Freighters Association (NRFA) Ken Wilkie says that fatigue law changes down under will need to extend beyond just allowing split rest breaks.

The NRFA has put together a 2017 Position on Fatigue document, which is being used in talks with the National Transport Commission (NTC) and similar industry and regulatory bodies.

"So our recommendations are that you’re still required to complete a seven-hour rest break within a 24-hour period, but if you choose to split that break up into two smaller ones, the splits must add up to eight hours and the smaller split cannot be less than two hours," Wilkie explains.

A major issue according to the NRFA is the lack of leeway around driving hours, meaning if drivers reach their limit due to uncontrollable factors like traffic or weather conditions, they’re forced to park up or break fatigue laws to get to a suitable rest stop.

"We understand that sometimes you just need a little more time to get to a stop, or even get home, but running out of hours can prevent that.

"The buffer we recommend is 10 per cent, so a driver cannot be scheduled to work the full 14 hours before taking a break because this leaves no leeway.

"Under the 10 per cent recommendation, a driver for example has to be scheduled to drive to within 10 per cent of the maximum 14 hours, which is 12.6 hours or less.

"On certain occasions the driver will be far better off if he continues a little more to get home or to a better rest area - it’s safer," Ken says.

The NRFA also recommends the use of bobtail prime movers or empty body trucks to attend to domestic requirements and social commitments on a major rest break away from home base, just as they’d be allowed to if they were in a light vehicle.

Heather Stewart, the experienced WA-based operator and co-founder of the Pilbara Heavy Haulage Girls, explains that while split rest breaks may work for some, everybody is different and companies need to know their drivers.

"Split breaks might work for some, for example I need eight hours sleep and I know that, but everyone is different," Heather says.

"I just think whatever we do it’ll never work for 100 per cent of the people and so you need to know your drivers.

"Companies want bums on seats, and they want a ‘go, go, go’ mentality - that is what needs to change.

"Some drivers like getting up at three in the morning, some don’t, and you manage their shifts based on how they manage their fatigue.

"All of that is part of managing your drivers effectively and keeping them safe."

Stewart believes a holistic approach is the best way of managing fatigue, from sleep, to diet, to staying social and happy.

"We need to concentrate on keeping drivers healthy and well slept and that’s where the big shift needs to be," she says.

"When I train drivers, I work through it all; a good night’s sleep, a healthy lifestyle, and you need to make sure you prioritise quality rest.

"You’re no good to me or anyone else on the road if you’re tired.

"It’s also important to get out of the truck on rest stops and have a chat to people, to keep your mind healthy."

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