FATIGUE: The system needs an overhaul, says Gary Mahon.
FATIGUE: The system needs an overhaul, says Gary Mahon. Contributed

Time for a fatigue overhaul

BACK in November 1938 the Queensland Premier at the time, William Forgan-Smith, personally introduced the State Transport Bill which, among other matters, included driving hours and safety provisions for heavy vehicle drivers.

Hansard records him as saying the new legislation was to "view the transport position in the light of modern development and community interests" and that "legislation should always have the power to cope with new problems".

These newly introduced requirements included a maximum continuous driving period of five-and-a-half hours and not to exceed 11 hours in a 24-hour period.

There was also a defence for drivers if they were unavoidably delayed on their trip.

Given that the Premier was a no-nonsense kind of guy he was able to describe all these requirements on about one page of the Transport Act.

Some 57 years later in 1995 the Fatigue Management Program was introduced into Queensland Legislation by the Hon David Hamill.

The FMP changes were contained to one paragraph, bringing the total amount of fatigue legislation to about two pages.

Here we are in 2018, some 80 years since the "modern" fatigue law about driving hours and rest breaks was introduced.

Now a standard day is 12 hours and the FMP has been replaced by Basic Fatigue Management and Advanced Fatigue Management.

It takes 141 pages of legislation to describe, and is basically the same concept the 1938 Bill addressed in a little over a page.

No one in the industry would argue against the risk of fatigue needing to be managed in a way that protects our drivers and the general community to ensure safe conditions on our roads.

But accumulating legislation over the past 80 years at a 7000 per cent increase in rules and regulations is not the solution.

The current system can only be described as a "Roadside Administration Test".

The fines involved can lead to a driver losing a month's pay, even if they are not impaired by fatigue. A driver need only tick the wrong boxes, not cancelling a page properly, not sign a page on time, or make a simple spelling mistake.

The road freight industry significantly contributes to the economy and is a vital industry to all Australian people.

If the goal truly is to reduce impairment, we need legislation that is contemporary and responsive to science and the use of technology.

Compare this to the issue of drink-driving. The concept that alcohol impaired a person's driving ability was noted in traffic laws in the early 1900s.

However, it was the Grand Rapids study in Michigan in 1964 that finally showed that drivers who had consumed alcohol had a much higher risk of being involved in crashes.

Critics of this study suggested that the results were flawed because researchers could not identify whether or not it was the intoxicated driver who was responsible for the crash.

In response, more detailed studies of at-fault drivers were conducted in the 1980s, which not only reconfirmed the relationship between blood alcohol level and crash risk, but also quantified this relationship.

This scientifically calculated risk of crash involvement according to Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) level, went on to provide structure for traffic laws, offences and penalties that truly targeted impaired drivers.

It also underpinned the development of testing technologies from simple blood tests, through to portable and evidentiary breath testing devices.

Over the past 50 years drink-driving crashes have significantly decreased because legislators, scientists and enforcement agencies worked together to quantify and address impairment, rather than simply introducing a log book to record how many drinks a driver had.

The use of science and applied thinking brought about a great road safety result and a genuine shift in driving culture.

What we have today with fatigue risk management and heavy vehicles is the same thinking that was introduced 80 years ago, only now it is so complex it keeps drivers awake worrying if they will pass the next "roadside administration test".

We need an integrated solution that draws on the best science, the use of technology, contemporary legislation, and the provision of infrastructure.

It is imperative that the government provides an appropriate number of rest areas on all major networks. If it is good enough to mandate a percentage of the road infrastructure spend to public art it is good enough to apply a percentage to new rest areas.

Eighty years ago, driving hour restrictions and rest requirements were introduced as the "modern" solution.

We need our lawmakers to set a new vision for managing the risk of fatigue that is consistent and has practical application across urban, provincial and remote areas of this country.

There is an Albert Einstein quote that "If you cannot explain something simply you don't really understand it".

Our forbears introduced a "modern" innovation 80 years ago and explained it simply.

We are well overdue for disruption to this legislation and bring in a new approach that manages fatigue impairment.

This has been talked to a standstill for too long. Eighty years is enough. We are in the 21st century.

80-year Fatigue Management Report Card

  • It now takes an extra 140 pages to describe what was once one page (Fatigue law is now one-fifth of HVNL)
  • Now the electronic log book has been introduced (automating the 80-year-old thinking)
  • No introduction of science to the approach (for example eye monitoring, impairment assessment, or testing technologies)
  • A 7000 per cent increase in the number of offences - 104 in total (including crossing out pages, failing to tick a day, not signing a page and the list goes on).
  • Enforcement is now applied in 15-minute increments, but appropriate rest areas not available at least every two hours on major networks.
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