Studies have shown that prolonged periods without sleep can have the same effect as being intoxicated. This is important for drivers of large vehicles. It means if they drive when they’re sleepy, they can do the same amount of damage as they would if they were drunk. For long-haul drivers of large vehicles, fatigue goes hand in hand with lack of sleep.
These drivers spend weeks at a time on the road. They often have no company, and they drive on unfamiliar roads maintaining the same position for most of the day. They experience intense fatigue, and since they’re not participating in an active task, they may not realise quite how tired they are.
To complicate issues further, drivers are paid based on how far they travel and how fast they can do it, so they sometimes forgo sleep to maintain their schedules. When they do sleep, it’s sometimes in their truck cabins. These cabins are often cramped and have less than ideal conditions, which means even after they wake up, they may still be tired.
The NHVR (National Heavy Vehicles Regulator) understands that these conditions can lead to poor concentration, low levels of alertness, and even falling asleep at the wheel. This can be fatal not just for the driver but also for other road users. A regular vehicle colliding with a truck has a minimal chance of survival.
To avoid such disastrous consequences, the NHVR has imposed a limit of daily driving hours. These hours are strictly enforced, and drivers fill out work diaries to confirm their compliance. However, these restrictions are sometimes punitive to drivers. It prevents them from using their trucks during off hours.
While they’re on duty, drivers squeeze in as much driving time as possible. Sometimes this means they have to clock out in unsuitable locations and can’t drive to areas of safety or accommodation. That’s why the NHVR is reviewing the terms for Personal Use Exemption.
This policy gives operators a few extra driving hours so that they can find a safer hotel, enjoy a leisurely drive after work, or take a detour in search of affordable truck parts. Ideally, it gives them one extra hour of driving every day, at the end of their scheduled working time. They’d also get a one-hour driving exemption on their days off.
During September, NHVR was working with stakeholders to consult on the best way to ensure truck drivers are always safe and well rested. Nationwide operations focused on work and rest hours for drivers. There was also training on the proper use of work diaries to facilitate the maximum downtime. This is required to enhance road safety.
Throughout the one month consultation, current fatigue rules were still enforced. Drivers, operators, and stakeholders are welcome to share their views on the Personal Use Exemption and related matters. To offer your submission, visit www.nhvr.gov.au/fatigue.