New study questions relevance of fatigue laws

Regulated driving hours criticised following the findings of study which raises doubts over fatigue management laws

By Brad Gardner

Regulated driving hours have been criticised following the findings of a study which raises doubts over fatigue management laws.

The Major Accident Investigation Report, commissioned by National Transport Insurance (NTI), claims fatigue and speed are the biggest causes of accidents.

The report says 86.7 percent of accidents happened within 500km of the departure point, with drivers at greatest risk of fatigue between five and six hours of beginning a journey.

Despite this, Basic Fatigue Management (BFM) mandates drivers to rest every six hours and 15 minutes, while Advanced Fatigue Management (AFM) permits a company to set its own rest provisions.

According to the report, the results "question the relevance of regulated driving hours over a comprehensive focus on driver fatigue management programs".

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has backed the findings, saying there needs to be a greater focus on driver welfare rather than regulation.

"Instead of relying on electronic monitoring to reduce accidents, the industry and governments need to place a renewed emphasis on driver health and on making sure that drivers are fit for duty when they start work," ATA Chairman Trevor Martyn says.

The report found the long distance sector suffered the least accidents, with the rate in the 751km to 1000km falling. The results for journeys over 1000km remained steady.

The report also shows most accidents occurred at the start of a driver’s working week, with Monday recording the highest rate.

"The worst day was Monday with one in four crashes, and when combined with Tuesday and Wednesday accounted for 58.4 percent of major incidents," the report says.

The report says inefficient loading practices, late departures and unachievable time slots lead to driver fatigue, but NTI expects this will be addressed under Chain of Responsibility provisions.

Speed was the greatest cause of accidents, with the report claiming it contributed to 27.4 percent of accidents, while fatigue accounted for 20.3 percent.

"According to the study, the vast majority of the speed-related crashes were due to trucks rolling over because they were going too fast when they changed direction," Martyn says.

Most accidents happened between 11am and 2pm, and 75.4 percent of incidents did not involve another vehicle.

The findings differ from previous studies by Driscoll, with the most dangerous period in 2003 between 4am and 6am.

In 24.6 percent of serious crashes with other vehicles, the latest findings claim the truck driver was responsible 46.3 percent of the time.

Drivers aged 51 to 60 were most likely to have an accident, which the report says reflects the ageing workforce in the trucking industry.

The ATA has also used the report to reiterate its opposition to electronic speed and fatigue monitoring tools, which governments are planning on introducing.

"None of these accidents would have been prevented by electronic fatigue monitoring because the drivers would have been well within the regulated hours programmed into the electronic systems," Martyn says.

Rather than imposing a new regulatory regime, the ATA wants governments to focus on building more rest areas to increase driver health and wellbeing.

The Australian Transport Council (ATC) will later this year decide on whether to implement electronic work diaries, which may be linked to the Intelligent Access Program as part of an all-in-one monitoring device.

The NTI, which is the peak trucking insurance body, based the study on incidents where damages exceeded $50,000.

The findings stem from incident and police reports, claim forms, interviews and details from on-scene crash recovery operators.

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