SAFETY FIRST: Trucking legend Ron Finemore gives Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities Paul Fletcher a demonstration.
SAFETY FIRST: Trucking legend Ron Finemore gives Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities Paul Fletcher a demonstration. Alexandra Orme

$6.5 million study saves lives

A GROUND-breaking new study now under way at Monash University in Melbourne has the potential to dramatically improve truck drivers' safety on Australian roads.

That's the underlying message from associate professor Michael Fitzharris, who heads up the research side of the $6.5 million three-phase investigation, called The Advanced Safe Truck Concept Project.

"The whole idea in a sense is to bring the outside and inside world together to really create a safe driving experience for the drivers,” Mr Fitzharris said.

"It's all about the safety of the driver at the end of the day, and to provide them with the information they need to keep themselves safe.

"It also provides companies with information on how so they can best schedule their drivers and ensure they're meeting their responsibilities for the health and safety of their drivers who they should be looking after as their number one priority in my view.”

After an initial car simulator phase, 10 trucks from the Ron Finemore fleet, a study partner and industry leader in driver safety culture, are now being fitted for use in on-road testing.

They are to be modified with the latest technology from key study partner Seeing Machines, which specialises in sophisticated eye tracking that aims to identify episodes of fatigue and distraction and provide a warning to drivers.

A prototype was on display at the official launch in Canberra recently.

"That's got an outward facing camera as well as the next generation Seeing Machines' technology, and a few other different things,” Mr Fitzharris said.

"The idea is to have that equipment in 10 trucks that will be rotated with different drivers over a period of a number of months.

"We'll be able to capture quite a lot of information from professional drivers doing a mix of runs, and see what the effect of driving in the real world is.”

As part of that stage of the study, Mr Fitzharris said he also wants feedback from drivers on what the best warning system should be.

"Whether it's an auditory tone, flashing lights, or a combination of the seat shaking; it's important that the alarms are delivered in the right way so they're not ignored. We want to hear from the end user rather than sitting in an ivory tower saying 'this is the system'.

"We've proven that they're a really effective thing, but the effectiveness is enhanced by the culture of the truck company as well.”

The other important phase of the study is expected to begin in July at Monash in which 20 professional truck drivers will be put through a series of tests in an on-site truck simulator provided by Ron Finemore.

Drivers 40-plus are still being sought (they receive $360 for an approximate five-hour commitment) for these sessions which include driving after a night without sleep.

"We'll get to measure the early onset of fatigue and to get to understand different aspects of workload in terms of the tasks that we ask people to do.”

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