NTC releases 'world first' heavy vehicle driver fatigue study

Created in conjunction with Alertness CRC, the report backs eye monitoring tech

NTC releases 'world first' heavy vehicle driver fatigue study
Associate Professor Mark Howard


The National Transport Commission (NTC) and the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity (Alertness CRC) have released the results of what is hailed as a world-first study into heavy vehicle driver fatigue.

The two-year scientific study evaluated alertness monitoring technology and the impacts of work shifts on driver alertness.

It analysed shift start time, the number of consecutive shifts, shift length, shift rotation, rest breaks and their likely impact on driver drowsiness and fatigue.

According to Alertness CRC ‘theme leader’ Associate Professor Mark Howard, the research involved a study of more than 300 heavy vehicle driver shifts both in-vehicle and in a laboratory, as well as 150,000 samples of retrospective data.

"We found that slow eye and eyelid movements, longer blink duration and prolonged eye closure are reliable predictors of drowsiness and fatigue," Howard says.

The study also confirmed the scientific link between alertness and drowsiness patterns associated with specific work shifts for heavy vehicle driving.

NTC CEO Dr Gillian Miles sees the findings as informing future fatigue policy as part of the NTC-led review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).

"This is critical new evidence that will ultimately help to decrease heavy vehicle fatigue risk at a time when the nation’s freight task is expected to double by 2030," Miles says.

Read the findings of NTARC’s latest major truck crash report, here

The summary report’s conclusions are positive for systems that measure eye movements.

"This sequence of projects has validated ocular based alertness monitoring technology, confirming its ability to identify drowsiness related driving impairment, and provided unique objective evidence regarding heavy vehicle driver schedule features that enable safe driving with high alertness levels and features that lead to high levels of drowsiness," it states.

That said, the researchers observed "some limitations" in their study and with ocular technology performance.

The Alertness CRC conducted the research as part of a wider collaboration including the NTC, the federal government, Transport for NSW, Austin Health, Monash University, the Institute for Breathing and Sleep and the heavy vehicle industry.

Key research findings

Greatest alertness levels can be achieved under current standard driving hours for shifts starting between 6am- 8am, including all rest breaks.

Greatest risk of an increase in drowsiness occurs:

  • after 15 hours of day driving (when a driver starts a shift before 9am)
  • after 6-8 hours of night driving (when a driver starts a shift in the afternoon or evening)
  • after five consecutive shifts when driving again for over 13 hours
  • when driving an early shift that starts after midnight and before 6am
  • during the first 1-2 night shifts a driver undertakes and during long night shift sequences
  • when a driver undertakes a backward shift rotation (from an evening, back to afternoon, or an afternoon back to a morning start)
  • after long shift sequences of more than seven shifts
  • during nose-to-tail shifts where a seven-hour break only enables five hours of sleep – a duration previously associated with a three-fold increased risk for motor vehicle accidents.

The summary report for the research project can be found here.


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