Safety & Compliance

How Australia Is Addressing Driver Fatigue

June 07, 2000

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Almost a decade ago, a horrific accident on a treacherous section of the Pacific Highway on the east coast of Australia made the nation's news headlines. A truck had collided with a bus, and the high-speed impact left few survivors. Outrage consumed the community. Mainstream media lynch mobs swarmed over trucking companies and accosted truck drivers. Somebody would hang for this...
The aftermath and resulting investigations revealed that the truck driver had used amphetamines and driven excessive hours. Australian trucking was in shambles. Demands on drivers and companies to deliver freight in time frames comparable to airline schedules were commonplace. Television news and current affairs programs swarmed on drivers and fleets, portraying an industry reliant on high speed and drugs. Something needed to be done.
What evolved from the chaos was the Road Transport Forum, now known as the Australian Trucking Association (ATA). One of its aims was to achieve self-regulation where truckers were given more responsibility to develop schedules which would allow them to run safely.
Three state governments took on the challenge to implement what became known as alternative compliance schemes. One addressed maintenance issues, another vehicle weights, and the third fatigue. By 1995, the first pilot fatigue management program (FMP) was operational and was embraced by several leading major fleets and a handful of smaller fleets and owner-drivers.

The FMP packages were readily adopted and have continued to improve through ongoing research.
Managing legal schedules for fleets on long distance interstate runs throughout Australia is a complex issue. Fleet managers are forced to juggle two distinct sets of rules governing driving hours; regulated in the eastern states, where drivers are required to fill out logbooks, and non-regulated in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
FMP practices combine the whole freight delivery process, not just the on-road leg. The FMP offers alternatives to the rigid 12-hour on/12-hour off hours of service rules. The Transitional Fatigue Management Scheme (TFMS) allows for up to 14 hours driving time per day, based on a 14-day cycle. This assists transcontinental drivers and allows them to manage their own fatigue yet still meet delivery schedules. They use time at each end of the trip to repay sleep debt. Livestock haulers in the state of Queensland also have their own scheme. It allows them to drive for up to 16 hours in a 24-hour period when loaded with stock. When empty, they revert to the 12 hours per day system. Both schemes require driver training, and the driver must carry a driver certificate endorsing their participation in the scheme.
Brisbane-based Gary Rogers of Rogers Transport, a small fleet with trucks running between Brisbane and Melbourne, says that the key to using FMP successfully is understanding sleep cycles, recognizing the early warning signs of fatigue and most importantly, proper trip planning. "You also need to remember that sleep debt needs to be repaid. Our interstate drivers do one trip and then a day on local so that they are home by five. They also spend one in every four weeks on local, that way they still get a reasonable wage but more importantly, they are not burnt out."
Not all the onus of FMP management is placed on drivers. Under the new "Chain of Responsibility Reform," emphasis is also placed on managers, consignors and receivers. For many companies this has meant lengthy negotiations with clients. Several operations managers concede that it has been an educational process for all parties.
Companies organize their fatigue management programs to best suit their schedules. On the 3,500 km (2,174-mile) east-west run from Melbourne to Perth, several express companies have adopted stage-coach driving strategies by having drivers located at various towns along the route. In this example, a Melbourne-based driver takes the truck 728 km (452 miles) to Adelaide and then rests for 10 or 12 hours. When he is rested, a Melbourne-bound truck arrives and he drives it home. While he slept in company provided rooms, the truck he brought to Adelaide ten hours earlier has travelled a further 820 km (509 miles) closer to its destination. At Ceduna another driver gets into the truck and continues while the previous driver starts his rest period. Using this method vehicle utilization has more than doubled and drivers are only away one night out of every two.
On the shorter inter-capital routes some companies opt for the change over method. Here a driver arrives midway to his destination and swaps trailers with a driver coming from the other direction. This system gets the driver home each day. Other companies send their drivers straight through but have a local driver to perform the deliveries and pick-ups.
FMP gives fleet bosses, drivers and customers the flexibility to work together to solve freight tasks in an economical and productive way. It isn't all roses, however. To be recognized as an accredited FMP participant, fleets must train their staff and keep records of trip times and freight movements for regular audits from the transport department.
According to Peter Dare from NTI a large Australian truck insurer, two main factors have arisen from FMP. Fleets found vehicle utilization rose from 48 percent to 84 percent, in most cases. For owner-drivers this figure is not as great unless they employ a second driver. Secondly, fatigue related insurance claims have fallen to 7.5 percent. (Speed, at 15 percent, is still the largest single contributing factor of heavy vehicle accidents.)

Howard Shanks is an Australian writer who has written extensively about the trucking industry for Australian trucking publications.

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