Fatigue management for truck drivers – what research shows
June 11, 2019
By Eugene Herbert
According to some experts as much as 60% of truck crashes can be attributed to fatigued driving. Clearly, if that is even remotely true, it is imperative that something is done about it– and soon.
Fatigued driving management for truck drivers is an important element of keeping our roads safe. While the mining industry has largely implemented a range of fatigue management strategies, truck drivers on our roads can be at risk. A new, world-first, study into fatigue in heavy vehicle shifts is providing some startling revelations.
The Australian National Transport Commission (NTC) and the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity (Alertness CRC) is releasing the results of a world-first study into heavy vehicle driver fatigue.
The two-year scientific study evaluates alertness monitoring technology and the impacts of work shifts on driver alertness. It analyses shift start time, the number of consecutive shifts, shift length, shift rotation, rest breaks and their likely impact on driver drowsiness and fatigue.
Spokesperson and Theme Leader for the Alertness CRC Associate Professor Mark Howard says the research involves a study of more than 300 heavy vehicle driver shifts. This is both in-vehicle and in a laboratory, as well as 150 000 samples of retrospective data. “We found slow eye and eyelid movements, longer blink duration and prolonged eye closure are reliable predictors of drowsiness and fatigue’” Associate Professor Howard says.
The fatigued driving management for truck drivers study also confirms the scientific link between alertness and drowsiness patterns associated with specific work shifts for heavy vehicle driving. NTC Chief Executive Officer Dr Gillian Miles says these findings will inform 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. This s at a time when the nation’s freight task is expected to double by 2030,” Dr Miles says.
The Alertness CRC conducted the research as part of a wider collaboration, including the NTC, the Australian Government, Transport for NSW, Austin Health, Monash University, the Institute for Breathing and Sleep and the heavy vehicle industry.
Greatest alertness levels are possible under current standard driving hours for shifts. This is starting between 6am to 8am, including all rest breaks.
The greatest risk of an increase in drowsiness occurs:
- After 15 hours of day driving when a driver starts a shift before 9 am
- After 6–8 hours of night driving (when a driver starts a shift in the afternoon or evening)
- After 5 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 the 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.