Fatigue rule changes likely
RESEARCH IS due to commence on the effects of heavy vehicle fatigue laws, a move the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) chair Noelene Watson says will improve industry safety.
The research project will monitor a sample of drivers during their real-life work shifts, and then in a laboratory during simulated shifts.
The project is a joint initiative between the Co-operative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity, the National Transport Commission, road agencies, police and industry.
The ATA is a member of the project steering committee, which held its first meeting today.
“The Heavy Vehicle National Law fatigue rules are complex, with detailed provisions about how to count work and rest time and overlapping 24 hour counting periods.
“Complying with the rules is stressful for drivers and operators, because of the risk of making a mistake,” Watson says. “And despite the complexity of the rules, there is only limited evidence available about their impact on driver fatigue and safety.
“Some state enforcement agencies have called for changes to the rules, particularly in relation to what are called nose-to-tail schedules.
“The ATA pointed out in 2014 that there was not enough evidence about the practice for governments to make an informed decision. The research will address this issue.
“The ATA also considers that the research needs to cover the quantity and quality of sleep that drivers get during major rest breaks, including the benefits of allowing split rest so drivers can move their trucks to a quieter spot after buying food or having a shower.
“In addition, there needs to be more research into short rest breaks and electronic work diary tolerances, as well as fatigue issues relating to regional and remote operation.”
The Australian Government has committed more than $ 800,000 to the project.
The ATA was represented at the meeting by its CEO, Ben Maguire.
The announcement of the research, made by transport minister Darren Chester, was criticised by the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which claims the axed Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) would have cut truck crashes by 28 per cent.
“We have had decades of research telling us truck driver fatigue is a major problem and that financial pressure on trucking companies and drivers themselves is what is forcing people to drive long hours,” says TWU acting national secretary Michael Kaine.
“We had a tribunal in place which was investigating this problem and holding wealthy retailers and manufacturers to account for low-cost contracts which are at the root of the problem.
“The Federal Government tore this tribunal down and now it is spending public money to make it look like it cares about deaths in truck crashes. In reality it is starting to look like they realise they got it wrong.”
Watson calls on the TWU to rethink its opposition to the research.
“The TWU has announced that it opposes this research, basically because it does not involve re-establishing the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal,” she says.
“But fatigue experts agree that more research is needed into the effect of the fatigue rules.
“The research will improve safety – and help make sure the rules are no more complicated than is absolutely necessary.
“I call on the TWU to join the ATA in supporting the expert researchers involved in this project.”
ATA chair Noelene Watson