Interesting article published today in Big Rigs re NHVR/police month-long blitz on fatigue management compliance.
In it [NHVR CEO] Sal Petroccitto refers to 190 lives lost from 167 fatal crashes involving heaavy vehicles over the past year.
Obviously, that’s not a good outcome, but once again officials are failing to be accurate and fair on the trucking industry.
Any death on the roads is unacceptable but to imply, intentionally or otherwise, that the entire 190 are down to the trucking industry is wrong and they know it.
I have just analysed the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) data for the past year to ascertain how many of the fatal incidents involving HVs were single-vehicle incidents and how many were multiple vehicle incidents, almost all of which are car-truck crashes.
This is important because we have all known for a long time, including the NHVR, police and all governments, that the motorist involved in a car-truck crash causes the crash in over 80 per cent of cases.
This is NOT a blame game but if we are to identify the scale and nature of the problem and try to fix it, we can’t just consider the total numbers. We must understand the actual causation.
The BITRE data clearly shows that:
- 110 of the 167 fatal crashes that involved HVs were in fact multiple vehicle crashes
- 130 fatalities (of the 190 Sal P referred to) resulted from those 110
- The motorists were responsible for 104 of the 190 deaths (i.e 80 per cent of the 130 from multiple vehicle crashes)
- HV sector is responsible for 86 (i.e the other 20 per cent of the 130 plus the 60 from the single vehicle HV crashes)
Eighty-six fatalities caused by the trucking industry is still too high, BUT it’s a damned site better than the 190 quoted by Sal Petroccitto in the article.
The next question that arises is what to do about it and whether or not a month-long fatigue management blitz by NHVR and police is an appropriate and effective response and strategy for lowering the road fatalities.
That is debatable, given that we know from the detailed NTARC crash analysis by NTI that distraction/inattention is the greatest HV driver-related cause of HV crashes. Fatigue is a distant third.
The next key question is what aspects of fatigue management failures cause fatal crashes. Is it:
1. Occasional errors in the timing of short rest breaks ….. NO it is not;
2. Errors in calculation by a driver of the total hours they worked in a “Relevant 24-hour period” (i.e the 24 hours that follows immediately after a legal sleep rest) when the work that puts them in breach occur immediately after the driver has actually taken a second seven-hour break.
a) For example, after a legal seven-hour sleep break the driver works say 13.5 hours and takes 90 minutes of short rests and then takes a second seven-hour rest break. That totals 22 of their “Relevant 24-hour period” in which they have worked 13.5 hours. So, under BFM that have just 30 minutes of available work time left in the remaining two hours of that “Relevant 24-hour period”. If they make the common mistake and start work again then by the end of that “Relevant 24-hour period” they would have work a total of 15.5 hours, and the NHVR and police would book the driver for a serious breach (90 minutes over their limit).
b) The point is that all 90 of those minutes of work occur within two hours of the end of their second seven-hour sleep break and whilst a breach of the counting rules it is NOT an indicator of, nor does it equate to, the driver being fatigued.
Occasional minor shortfalls in the length of a sleep break, such as a driver errs and has a 6.75-hour continuous rest instead of the required seven hours, and yet their work diary clearly shows that in the previous week or weeks, they have always had the required seven hours.
So, if the NHVR and olice blitz focusses on breaches of the rules such as these, then whilst it will be a focus on strict compliance with the counting rules it most certainly will NOT be an initiative genuinely aimed at eradicating or reducing the instance of fatalities attributable to HV driver fatigue.
It will also do nothing about the higher percentage of fatal crashes involving HVs that are caused either by other HV sector/driver issues, such as distraction, and it wont even touch on the 80 per cent of fatalities from car-truck crashes that are caused by the motorists involved.
I am not suggesting that there should not be any attention on fatigue management but let’s not misrepresent as a Fatigue Management Blitz what will inevitably be a blitz on the black-and-white literal enforcement of a set of counting rules that are a poor substitute for effective fatigue management.
I would love to think that the results published post the blitz and the media announcements by NHVR/police will identify that of the X number of intercepts, Y breaches of the complex fatigue management work/rest counting rules were identified and that whilst most of those were minor counting errors of no fatigue management significance, Z serious breaches were identified that constitute a serious risk of fatigue.
Then again, perhaps I am still a small boy at heart, still wishing against the odds for something special for Christmas!
I hope that all drivers, of all classes of vehicles, make sure that they rest properly and do not drive whilst fatigued, so they and our truck drivers all get home safely, especially when the roads are packed with holiday-makers over the coming Christmas break.
- Steve Shearer is the executive director of the South Australian Road Transport Association.