Get serious about fatigue
The heavy vehicle industry is deep into its scrutiny of what can be done to improve facilities on our major highways to help alleviate the degree of fatigue long-distance drivers endure through their daily, and nightly work.
Long-distance drivers are under constant pressure to ensure their driving regime fits with their administrative responsibilities in logging their time behind the wheel and meeting statutory law.
However, only approximately 5 per cent of the Australian long-distance freight task is interstate, while approximately 15 per cent is intrastate work and most heavy vehicle movements begin and end within 100 kilometres from their point of origin.
Under the current Heavy Vehicle National Law long-distance drivers are highly regulated and monitored through a very strict, and repressive, administration process.
They are heavily fined for breaches of this regime and it would appear that there are only a small proportion of heavy-vehicle drivers who must master the fatigue laws as they try and manage the process.
Most heavy vehicle drivers do not have to work under the same administrative regimes and are therefore looked upon differently from their long-distance cousins.
There is no doubt that any accident on our roads involving a heavy vehicle delivers severe consequences.
Stay alert, stay legal and stay on the road is our sound advice for all drivers.
And this is where the current debate becomes messy. Are current fatigue laws fitting into the enforcement regime or are they managing fatigue to improve safety on our roads?
The anomaly between long-distance and local driving in referencing fatigue is that the local driver does not endure the same scrutiny or enforcement levels when it comes to fatigue.
12 hours behind the wheel of a heavy-vehicle in a day is a hard day’s work. Stretch it out longer and throw in customer expectations, infrastructure issues on the road and the outrageous levels of personal fines and the pressures on all heavy-vehicle drivers can be extreme.
The Heavy Vehicle National Law is under review and the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) will be highlighting the inequities in the law on fatigue as well as other issues in its representations.
But there are solutions to improving safety and managing driving fatigue issues on our roads that can be acted upon now without having to go through the arduous process of amending laws.
Country and regional driver rest areas have long been the bane of long distance drivers as they are generally constructed differently in each state, in varying positions and attract other road users that exclude the long-distance driver.
There are studies under way to address these issues, which will cater for a small proportion of our industry.
But what do we make of the rest areas in metropolitan areas?
Where do we park, and rest, when visiting the major cities? Where does the local driver take his 15-minute and half hour break? Parking a heavy-vehicle in suburban streets is difficult and, in most instances, illegal.
The causes of driver fatigue are many and at times complex to resolve overall.
The need of the industry is not just to drive behavioural change in driving and driver management but to support the individuals as we slowly change and transition through these issues.
It is not hard to acknowledge that every heavy-vehicle driver above 4.5 GVM (gross vehicle mass) is required, by law, to have regular and prescriptive rest breaks.
Then why do we not have regular and prescriptive rest areas for heavy-vehicle drivers flowing off our major arterials?
Today’s heavy vehicle driver in metropolitan areas is entitled to be able to stop the vehicle in a safe area and rest accordingly to ensure fatigue does not become a mitigating factor in increasing the fatigue-related safety risk.
Our road planners, statutory authorities, academics and politicians need to understand that safety on our roads is not just up to the driver.
We must support the freight industry and ensure the actions to combat our road toll improve driver behaviour and deliver safer roads that are consistent and ongoing.
The VTA supports the introduction of heavy vehicle rest areas in metropolitan regions to be built and included in future road plans that will see heavy vehicle drivers better manage their fatigue regimes.