Deadly Drivers – Road Risks caused by Driver Fatigue.

“The cost of living is just too high right now –“ Jon a truck driving NSW local says “if you get called for a job and you’ve only just come from one with a few hours sleep it isn’t smart to say no.” It’s in this atmosphere of a tense economy and declining jobs that beggars can’t be choosers – or sleep deprived potentially dangerous drivers can’t afford to skip a shift to pay off a sleep debt while real financial debt looms.

Driver fatigue is responsible for one third of road deaths every year. The sheer size of a heavy vehicle contributes to fatality of a road accident, most severely involving collision with another vehicle. Crash rates remain high and climbing as the roadways expand in Australia. As much as 25% in insurance losses for the heavy vehicle industry caused by driver fatigue.

The job demands of long haul truck driving are among the highest in causing driver fatigue. Long, and irregular work hours, early start times and prolonged late night shifts are just some of the demands that interfere with vital long-term rest. This is not about a lack of skill on the driver’s part – it is the bigger issue of every human being requiring adequate sleep.

The conflict between the physiology of an internal body clock and the required wakefulness in the sleep/work rest cycle inevitably leads to impaired driving performance as well as a general state of disturbed sleep. The nature of the prolonged activity of the job is one of the leading factors in driver fatigue.

These risks aren’t just active at the tail end of a long shift. Studies are now showing that as much as 70% of truck incidents are happening on outbound journeys – indicating that drivers are not well rested or fit for duty from the very start of their shift. The other findings from the NTARC (National Truck Accident Research Centre) show that drivers may not be getting enough rest even on their days off and returning to work just as fatigued as those coming off a long week on the road.

Without proper training, professional drivers are often unable to gage their individual fatigue levels properly, and are often unaware of degradation in their driving performance. Slowed down reaction times, paired with a hindered ability to assess situations in real time are not things that should be occurring when behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle travelling at highway speeds. Delays in reaction times caused by driver fatigue can be potentially fatal.

What can be done?

Studies are ongoing regarding the best ways to test for and prevent driver fatigue from playing a deadly role. Employers are taking measures to educate and train on the detection of the first signs of driver fatigue, as well as setting new limits on hours of duty. Fatigue management training teaches drivers necessary skills and knowledge helping them to manage their personal driver fatigue and understand the value of sleep health and lifestyle choices and impact it has on themselves and other drivers.

Drivers not completing the fatigue management training were shown to be six times more likely to be involved in an accident found in a recent study done by Curtin University.

It is not the responsibility of the driver alone to manage driver fatigue. All parties in the chain of command – employers and employees all have legal responsibility to manage this risk.