According to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, fatigue and distraction are serious safety challenges for heavy vehicle drivers and operators.
Experts tell us that if you’ve had less than seven hours of sleep in the last 24 hours, it’s likely that you’re suffering from fatigue. If you’ve had less than twelve hours of sleep in the last 48 hours, it’s also likely that you’re impaired by fatigue.
Apart from potential health problems, a lack of sleep can often lead to poor judgement, slower reaction times, errors, and micro-sleeps, among other outcomes.
Fatigue is the most common cause of crashes involving a single heavy vehicle, especially concerning when you consider that any vehicle driven at 100km/h will travel over 80 metres in just three seconds.
The Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) outlines a shared responsibility for safety which means that both operators and drivers have responsibilities for ensuring fitness for duty with regards to managing fatigue.
Drivers are responsible for making sure that they present fit for duty, and that they follow the company’s safety policies and procedures.
Meanwhile, it is the company’s responsibility to make sure their systems are safe – including realistic rosters, policies and procedures.
An understanding of this shared responsibility, led to both drivers and operators highlighting the benefits of fatigue and distraction detection technology, or FDDT at an NHVR Fatigue Safety Summit. They told us it was helping to identify when drivers might be fatigued, potentially preventing incidents before they occur.
The NHVR made a commitment to undertake some research and trials, and engaged experts, including Dr Drew Dawson from CQ University, for their advice on what potential there is for this sort of technology to impact fatigue.
This work involved interviews with 80 transport and bus company employees – including drivers, owners, schedulers and safety staff – from 12 road freight and bus companies. Feedback from industry saw the technology as a potential game changer for heavy vehicle safety.
Most FDDTs provide an in-cab alert to the driver – either a sound or seat vibration to indicate a fatigue or distraction event is happening. The distraction alerts occur when the driver has their eyes away from the road for too long. The driver is immediately alerted and they can then decide to stop and have a rest when it is safe to do so, or do something else to make sure they don’t fall asleep at the wheel.
Distraction and fatigue can sometimes be linked. If a driver is fatigued, they might start looking around more to try and keep themselves awake. Sometimes fatigue can lead to a driver having “highway hypnosis” – looking at the road, but not being fully aware of their surroundings.
Most technologies can also send an alert to someone within your company or to a nominated third party that can call and check in, or have a chat.
The studies conducted for the NHVR showed that FDDTs led to fewer near misses and crashes.
Two comprehensive studies and some excellent feedback from a dedicated working group means we’re ready to move forward with a series of best practice guides for drivers and operators. NHVR will also progress a pilot later in the year to better understand the effectiveness of the technology and refine the regulatory framework to maximise the safety benefits.
In June, the NHVR released our Vehicle Safety and Environmental Technology Uptake Plan which outlined the work NHVR will undertake to accelerate the introduction of new safety and environmental technologies into the Australian heavy vehicle market.
Through this plan it wants to provide certainty and consistency and promote safer and more productive heavy vehicles.
The NHVR is pleased to say that one of the first areas we will see this emerge will be incentives to use fatigue and distraction detection technology.
The Australian heavy vehicle industry has shown an enormous capacity over many years to invent, trial and embrace new technologies, particularly when it leads to greater safety or productivity benefits.