Hard numbers on fatigue and how to protect yourself

The numbers on fatigue are in – and there’s good news and bad. According to the 2021 Major Accident Investigation Report, fatigue-related crashes are at their lowest recorded level. Still, they remain the largest single cause of truck driver deaths.

The National Truck Accident Research Centre (NTARC) has analysed data from insurer NTI’s large loss claims database for the last decade. 

Adam Gibson, transport and logistics risk engineer at NTI, has authored the last six reports. “Over the past decade we’ve seen an improvement in the safety performance of the trucking industry, going from 1.4 deaths per billion tonne-kilometres of freight moved down to 0.9, which is a 36 per cent reduction,” said Gibson.

“That means Australia’s transport industry is one of the safest in the world. That’s a success to be celebrated.”

Gibson adds: “Even though fatigue-related truck crashes are at their lowest recorded level, fatigue remains the single biggest cause of crashes where truck drivers lose their lives.”

The good news is that the overall trend is downwards; after plateauing from 2017 to 2019, the rate of fatigue crashes dropped again, down to eight per cent of all large loss crashes.

However, the report busted some myths about fatigue-related incidents.

Most fatigue crash drivers had more than a decade’s experience 

One ‘myth’ is that fatigue is only a problem for inexperienced drivers who don’t know how to manage their time and alertness. But the report shows that most drivers involved in fatigue crashes have spent more than a decade behind the wheel. 

“They’re on familiar routes doing familiar tasks,” Gibson said.

Fatigue risk is highest between midnight and 6am

The report also shows that the small hours between midnight and 6am are the worst for fatigue crashes. It’s a message that operators have taken onboard.

“We’re seeing fewer drivers doing the extreme hours that were once more common,” Gibson said. 

“We see a lot of operators that now have their trucks parked up from 10pm to 4am.

“To those operators, we say ‘thank you’. It’s a wonderful example of the interplay between the report and the industry’s operational practices.”

How to protect yourself

Gibson said there are three key steps you can take to protect yourself against having a fatigue crash.

1. Get good quality sleep

“Caffeine, alcohol, stress and being overweight can all reduce your sleep quality. Getting less than five hours sleep affects your judgment as much as if you have 0.05 per cent blood alcohol.”

2. Use a driver management system (DMS)

“We know they’re controversial, but the simple fact is they save lives. They can help make you a more alert driver and your day-to-day work easier.”

3. Stay off the roads between midnight and 6am

“Check your routes and schedules. If it looks like you’ll be driving past midnight, flag it.”

Gibson said the most important step for any driver is to realise that “fatigue happens to everyone.”

The good news is it’s a problem the industry can fix – starting with a good night’s sleep.

Download a copy of the NTARC 2021 report at

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