A hiding to nothing
Questions remain about the voluntary use of electronic work diaries and any real safety benefits
“It’s hampering productivity and not effective in saving lives.”
THE ELECTRONIC WORK DIARY (EWD) saga currently unfolding in the regulatory space reminds me of a line from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams: “If you build it, he will come”. In the US they are called an electronic logging device (ELD or E-Log) and have been mandated for all heavy vehicles since 2015, while in Europe the digital tachograph and analogue version has been mandatory since 2005.
After extensive use in the US and Europe, why isn’t Australia following suit by mandating the use of this technology to save lives?
The Major Accident Investigation Report 2017 published by National Transport Insurance (NTI) indicates that 12.2 per cent of major heavy vehicle incidents (over $50,000) involving their clients were fatigue related. The National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020 indicates that between 20 to 30 per cent of deaths and 8 per cent of serious injuries are related to fatigue in all vehicle categories.
Obviously, fatigue is a serious road safety issue and one that is eminently preventable. The difficulty is that there is no accurate understanding of the fatigue problem in the heavy vehicle industry. Little is known about the rates of fatigue as a causal factor in heavy vehicle incidents. Is it more prominent in longor short-haul operations? Enforcement agency investigations are very still very cursory and not undertaken or recorded consistently nationally. NTI data indicates that 68.9 per cent of outbound heavy vehicle journeys represent the highest fatigue-related incidents.
Why is a voluntary EWD on a hiding to nothing? The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) hasn’t provided a case study or information explaining the potential productivity or safety benefits of EWD to industry. Do they anticipate the adoption of EWD will save one life or 10 lives per annum or reduce fatigue-related incidents from 30 to 15 per cent? What might be the potential productivity savings to an operator by installing an EWD?
No operator will expose themselves to constant monitoring and the potential for continuous enforcement action by regulators unless there are clear productivity and road safety benefits.
What then is the intent of the NHVR in making the EWD voluntary? There is no stated objective or published plan from the NHVR about the outcomes it is seeking from a voluntary EWD scheme. Is it going to undertake research of the effectiveness of the scheme? If it does conduct research, what methodology is proposed? How will they collect data from operators? What would success of the study look like? Will operators be compelled to hand over EWD data for research purposes?
As a voluntary scheme, what would the NHVR consider to be a successful uptake and over what period? The Intelligence Access Program is plagued by issues around the accuracy of the GPS technology and self-declarations by drivers. As a result, prosecutions are rare, with most jurisdictions opting to give warnings or send show cause letters.
The current NHVR EWD Policy Framework and Standards doesn’t deal with how roadside/back office enforcement for these types of scenarios will be addressed. Where is the NHVR’s compliance and enforcement strategy or plan for EWD? When might we see this published? The recent Operation Shield said the operation was part of the NHVR’s Safety Program. If so, when will the Safety Program be published?
The lack of transparency and accountability continues to persist as a permanent fixture in regulatory agency culture around heavy vehicle enforcement.
How many more Operation Shields are to be conducted during 2018 and beyond? What are they expected to achieve? This recent operation reported a total of 11,881 vehicles units were inspected. Of the 5,824 (read drivers) intercepted, there were 119 individual fatigue offences. That equates to just a 2.4 per cent offending rate for fatigue.
At what cost to the tax payer and the heavy vehicle industry? If we assume an intercept on average lasted approximately 30 minutes, based on National Transport Commission (NTC)* data we assume it costs $328 per vehicle to inspect and cost industry $1,047. A basic estimate puts the operation cost at $16.3 million dollars (11,881 x $1,375). A total of 1,302 offences were detected, with each individual offence costing approximately $12,500 to detect**.
How can this be described as targeted enforcement? Particularly when enforcement agencies fail to indicate the benefit cost (the number of lives saved, or serious injuries prevented) as a result of such operations.
As the US and Europe have been operating these schemes for some time, what data is there regarding the success they have achieved? To date, I have found no studies regarding the success or failure of EWDs in these countries.
When might we see the NHVR put in place measures to assess the success of either the proposed voluntary scheme or a future compulsory EWD scheme?
The NTC, the NHVR and the Alertness Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) will finalise a comprehensive study of fatigue in approximately June of 2018.
Perhaps then we will have a more accurate understanding of fatigue in the heavy vehicle industry and see appropriate evidence and risk-based strategies developed that move away from draconian enforcement methods like Operation Austrans, Rolling Thunder and Shield where the entire industry is punished unnecessarily for a handful of very costly offence detections.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
Fatigue is complex and there are many factors which affect drivers in very different ways when working.
It is well known that there is no substitute for a good sleep routine. A healthy diet and exercise are also ways to combat the effects of work on the human body.
From a regulatory perspective, the focus should be on ensuring industry and operators have appropriate systems in place to manage fatigue. In particular, guidance to assist operators develop effective policies and procedures within their business. It would appear pre-trip preparedness is a critical factor to address. As we are all individual, developing flexibility in managing fatigue is important and more work is required in this space.
Technology has a significant role to play and if deployed correctly can detect drowsiness and the onset of fatigue potentially preventing an incident.
However, without appropriate policies in place about how drivers and schedulers are to deal with these detections they will deliver little benefit. Developing policies and procedures about what to do in the event a driver becomes fatigued during a journey is paramount.
The ability for a driver to stop and rest is crucial and being able to do so without consequence is essential to managing fatigue risk. The enforcement landscape must change. The modernisation of enforcement to become an evidence- and risk-based activity can’t happen soon enough. It’s hampering productivity and not effective in saving lives.
Critical safety risks that cause harm, serious injury and death should be the focus. It is no longer acceptable or financially feasible for enforcement agencies to continue to conduct operations which intercept heavy vehicles en masse in an effort to be seen to be addressing road safety.