Information for Development of an Educational Program to Reduce Fatigue-related Truck Accidents

Monash University Accident Research Centre - Report #4 - 1989

Authors: N. Haworth & C. Heffernan

Full report in .pdf format [2.2MB]


This report provides information for the development of a heavy vehicle driver education package regarding fatigue.

Driver fatigue is recognised as a contributory factor in some accidents. It is more likely to be associated with long hours of driving, without adequate rest periods, loss of sleep, food or drug intake and night driving.

Various methods are recommended to counteract fatigue. They include limitation of total driving hours, regular rest stops before fatigue sets in, avoidance of alcohol and drugs (although moderate use of caffeine is not harmful), use of radio to maintain alertness and adequate cabin ventilation, as well as introducing variation in the driving environment.

Executive Summary

This report is one of several to be produced as part of a study of driver fatigue in heavy vehicle accidents. It provides information for use in developing a program to educate heavy vehicle drivers about the role of fatigue in crashes, factors which contribute to its onset and measures to counter it. The study was commissioned by the Victorian Road Freight Transport Industry Council and funded by the Road Construction Authority in May, 1988.

The report comprises two sections. The first section addresses issues relating to the provision of education programs, including the need for such programs. The second section presents information about driver fatigue which has been gathered to provide the background material for development of the educational package.

In the first section, which provides information for educators, the following main points are made:

  • The road transport industry and government authorities perceive a need for both general education and specific fatigue educational programs for heavy vehicle drivers.
  • An educational program specifically addressing driver fatigue would aim to provide heavy vehicle drivers with skills to recognise fatigue and methods to counter it.
  • In any one year of driving there is a one in 200 chance of a semi-trailer being involved in a fatal accident.
  • Semi-trailer accidents are more likely to be severe and involve fatalities, as compared with car accidents.
  • Fatigue-related accidents are a major occupational hazard for truck drivers, especially long distance drivers.
  • A NSW study reported that "articulated trucks have a high involvement fatigue accidents in comparison with their involvement in other accidents".
  • A recent Victorian study reported that car or truck driver fatigue was a contributing factor to between 9.1 % and 19.9% of fatal accidents involving trucks, with fatigued car drivers being involved at least as much as fatigued truck drivers.
  • In interviews of owner-drivers in NSW 94 per cent stated that a low accident rate was important in getting and keeping regular work.
  • Owner-drivers often face a range of problems (including economic factors, oversupply, ease of entry into the industry and poor business skills) which can potentially add to the likelihood of driving while fatigued. Resistance to implementing fatigue countermeasures may arise as a result of these additional work pressures.
  • In overcoming this resistance educators need to acknowledge the reality of such constraints, the current attempts by the road freight industry and the government to minimise these constraints, and the role heavy vehicle drivers may be able to play in effecting changes in the industry which could improve safety and other working conditions.

In the second section, which details information regarding driver fatigue and ways to counter it, the following main points are made:

  • Fatigue has proved difficult to define precisely and some researchers view fatigue as arising from conditions of over-stimulation while others view it as arising from conditions of boredom or under-stimulation.
  • Factors which have been shown to contribute to the onset of fatigue include inadequate sleep or rest (long- or short-term disturbance to sleep patterns, certain phases of circadian rhythms, sleep disorders), prolonged hours of service (prolonged driving periods, night-time driving), and food and drug intake (eating patterns, intake of alcohol and other drugs).
  • Driving behaviour while fatigued can include zigzag driving within the permitted lane, crossing the centre line, and running off the road.
  • Accidents in which fatigue is involved are often severe. Examples of actual fatal accidents involving heavy vehicles, in which the Coroner found fatigue to be a contributing factor, are presented in Appendix 1.
  • Methods of counteracting fatigue include: compliance with hours of driving regulations including regular rest stops, using CB and AMIFM radio, avoidance of driving if narcoleptic, or under the effects of alcohol, depressants or amphetamines, using moderate amounts of caffeine, and introducing variation into the environment. Further study of the effects of adequate cabin ventilation and reduced cabin vibration is needed before these methods can be recommended.

Sponsor: Road Construction Authority and the Victorian Road Freight Transport Industry Council