By: Peter Carr EROAD Director, Regulatory Market Development ANZ
The National Transport Commission (NTC) has released the consultation draft of the regulatory impact assessment of the options arising from their review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law. Among the many things it covers, it looks at fatigue. And because of the narrow focus of the review, it would be easy to get the mistaken impression that fatigue is only a problem for heavy vehicle drivers.
To give them their due, the NTC team leading the review know this is not true. But they also know that overseas experience suggests that further improvement is possible.
The system regulates professional drivers both because these drivers are on the road more often and longer, so are more at risk of becoming fatigued from driving, and because sheer physics means that any accident involving that heavy vehicle will have more energy and a higher risk of death or serious injury, regardless of fault. And, of course, the tight regulatory net has created numerous touch points that mean the system can actually find and influence professional heavy vehicle drivers.
The statistics seem to reflect the positive impact of focusing on professional drivers, with heavy vehicle drivers at fault in only 20 percent of the heavy vehicle-involved accidents resulting in a fatality. Looking at fatigue, the incidence of fatigue as a factor in major accidents involving heavy vehicles is now half what it was prior to the 2009 reforms, at under 10 percent. In comparison, the incidence of fatigue amongst light vehicle accidents is all but unchanged at 20-30 percent.
A fervent wish of many government officials is that having alert truck drivers may also help mitigate the risk from other people’s fatigue, inattention or neglect. This may be more of a hope than a real plan, although individual examples do come up from time-to-time. Even the most modern trucks, with all the bells and whistles, aren’t that agile under a full load.
However, studies with autonomous vehicles suggest that these cars have a calming effect once present above a certain percentage of traffic. So maybe the ‘plan’ for truck drivers will work, at least along major freight corridors. But other factors may come into play, too, because of how many car drivers seem to react when around trucks. So, the first worry is and needs to remain helping truck drivers be the best drivers they can be, recognising any wider benefits as the happy accidents they are.
About the author
Peter Carr is the Director Regulatory Market Development with EROAD Ltd, responsible for working with government policy agencies and regulators across Australia and New Zealand on road safety, funding and taxation matters. Prior to joining EROAD, Peter was responsible for advising the New Zealand government on: the operation and performance of the land transport revenue, funding and investment systems; the rates of Road User Charges and Fuel Excise Duty; the use of tolling, debt and public-private partnerships; and the regulatory settings for heavy vehicle dimensions, mass, and access.