National Transport Commission launches review to reduce driver fatigue

The National Transport Commission (NTC) is working with the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity (Alertness CRC) to better understand driver fatigue and ways to measure it.

The project is part of a broader program to stimulate changes to heavy vehicle rules and regulations, aimed to ensure a safe and productive land transport sector. The NTC’s 2017 annual report stated that there are 213 deaths due to crashes involving a heavy vehicle.

Mining companies are welcome to contribute their input and insights from the sector.

Though the percentage of deaths by fatigue is not disclosed, fatigues is a major cause of serious incidents, according to Safe Work Australia.

The NTC reported there are 8.7 million containers moved around Australia by road every year. This is on top of 400,000 heavy road freight vehicles that help move 726 billion tonne-kilometre (tkm) of freight around the country, which includes the transportation of mining equipment by heavy vehicles.

The NTC project team under the leadership of productivity and safety project director Mandi Mees is aware of the possible relevance of the fatigue research to mine sites.

However, not enough evidence exists about the cause and impact of fatigue to determine the changes needed in fatigue policy. In particular, little is known about the quality and quantity of drivers’ rest during minimum rest periods.

NTC chief executive Paul Retter said, “The heavy vehicle industry requires more flexibility in fatigue regulation, however first we need to better understand fatigue and the road safety challenges it represents.

“There is a lack of comparable data, and data in general, on fatigue risks associated with heavy vehicle driving. We need robust evidence to underpin any future reforms of the fatigue regulations in the [Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL)].”

An Alertness CRC team at Monash University is evaluating the impacts of the HVNL work scheduling practices and regulations on driver fatigue. The study uses both real-world work shifts and laboratory scenarios to measure driver drowsiness and sleeping patterns on the road.

The Australian Government committed $828,000 to the project.

Tom Allen, industry participant and managing director of TGR Transport, said “Fatigue affects me as a driver and the ability to concentrate on the road, stay awake and just be alert. Lack of concentration is the biggest sign of fatigue. Your eyes might suddenly close and you might end up getting a bit too relaxed. At that point you need to do something about it.

“The challenge is to have a 15-minute or 2-hour break when you can be back home in your own bed. Have a set of rules to tell you to stop when you may not be tired, and [to not] drive when you need a break.”

Allen, who has been driving trucks for almost 20 years, said that it is important that this project will provide robust evidence to inform any future fatigue regulations.

The research is due for completion by the end of 2018. Its findings will inform the NTC’s review of current fatigue regulations, and will be presented to transport ministers in May 2019.

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