By: Peter Carr EROAD Director, Regulatory Market Development ANZ
In its 2019 issues paper Effective fatigue management regulation, National Transport Insurance (NTI) reported that (in 2017) fatigue was still the leading contributing factor in single-vehicle fatality-causing crashes, and a major contributor in 9.8 percent of all major accidents. The National Road Safety Strategy put the presence of fatigue as a factor for all fatal and serious injury road crashes in the range of 20-30 percent, stating that “fatigue is four times [more] likely to contribute to impairment than drugs or alcohol”. But what is fatigue?
It’s probably easiest to think of fatigue as ‘bad’ tiredness. One night’s rest won’t cure it, because it’s an extreme form of tiredness resulting from heavy physical exertion or illness, a state of weakness induced by repeated variations of stress. The risks and consequences of fatigue when driving are well known: distraction, reduced motivation, reduced alertness more generally, slowed response times, or even falling asleep at the wheel. These things don’t always result in a crash, but they do always make crashes more likely.
Fatigue comes from some persistent abnormality in someone’s schedule. For the average person, a normal day is ‘diurnal’ – active in daylight, asleep at night. Consistency over time is also important: the greater the regularity of the sleep pattern, the more effective its restorative power. So, occasions or situations that pose a higher risk of fatigue are:
- Driving at night, both generally from 10pm to 5am, and especially midnight to 3am
- Driving after being awake for the better part of a day, whether active or not, working or not
- Driving after a major change in when in the day one must be active, and
- Driving on night shifts, late shifts, double shifts, rotational shifts, and split shifts.
But even if someone drives at fairly normal times, lifestyle plays a part. For example, a 2002 study released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found that men aged under 30 years were significantly represented in fatigue-related crashes, and more so in single vehicle crashes in the early morning. As a group of people who we could reasonably expect to be in good health, many started work less than refreshed. And if one wonders if ‘age and stage’ really matter, consider that the same research showed drivers over 50 years were more likely to be involved in fatigue-related head-on crashes in the afternoons.
None of this means we should not be working at higher risk times or in higher risk situations. What it means is there’s no excuse for not recognising the risks and having systems to manage them. Because the one other thing fatigue is, is avoidable.
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.