Fatigue is a loss of alertness that reduces human performance and may or may not end up in sleep or micro-sleeps. It is one of the leading factors contributing to road crashes and has several problematic effects on driving performance, including slowed reaction time, shorter attention span, less effective memory, narrowing of attention, and less effective reasoning and decision making.
According to the Transport Accident Commission, 20% of all fatal road crashes in Victoria involve driver fatigue, while estimates in Queensland (from the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety, Queensland) are that sleepiness contributes to 20–30% of all deaths and severe injuries on the road. Fatigue is four times more likely to contribute to impairment than drugs or alcohol.
The only effective way to address fatigue is through sleep, but a number of successful strategies have been used to mitigate the risks. The National Road Safety Partnership Program (NRSPP) has highlighted the ‘Safe Driving Procedure’ implemented by the Bureau of Meteorology, which has an extensive infrastructure network around Australia and a large number of employees required to drive long distances. The Bureau's Safe Driving Procedure includes: provision for managing fatigue; dictating that drivers should be well rested; adhere to mandated driving breaks and driving times; have accommodation booked in advance; be well nourished in preparation for driving and maintain a good level of hydration; and follow napping guidelines. These fatigue principles are defined in the Bureau's workplace safety procedures and it is mandatory for drivers to follow them. These and other new provisions have led to a substantial reduction in road incidents, and in the average cost of each incident.
The Government is co-funding research into heavy vehicle driver fatigue. Run by the National Transport Commission and the Alertness, Safety and Productivity Cooperative Research Centre, this project aims to produce robust, evidence-based research to inform the design of future fatigue arrangements for the heavy vehicle industry. A review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law within the next two years will provide the opportunity for improvements to the fatigue regulatory framework in light of the research findings.
Other measures to address fatigue include improved vehicle technologies (including lane assist systems and fatigue detection), real-time monitoring of long distance drivers, and infrastructure measures, which were assessed in a recent Austroads report on this subject. The report highlighted solutions such as the provision and promotion of rest opportunities, enhanced signage, audio-tactile line markings, and improved roadside protection.
This Action Plan extends these activities and includes further specific provision to address fatigue. Action 8 identifies improved safety for heavy vehicles through improvement to fatigue laws, and educating and assisting companies to meet their obligations under chain of responsibility laws. Other actions will have indirect benefits, including Action A, which requires establishment of network-wide safety plans to direct infrastructure investment for corridors.