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Management of fatigue in the road transport industry

By: Laurence Hartley

Date: Friday, 19. October 2007

Regulating hours of driving is one answer to the problem of fatigue and sleepiness in the transportation industry but it's far from being enough, according to recommendations from a group of experts that met in Fremantle, Australia, in 1996, for the Second International Conference on Fatigue


The conference was attended by some of the best-known names in traffic safety research and they identified a number of factors that affect fatigue, under the headings of temporal, environmental and those related to sleepiness. The range of factors included: the age of the driver, type of work, times of day that are associated with sleepiness, type of conditions, level of rest, and medical conditions such as narcolepsy.

Recommendations resulting from the conference included:

Report and Recommendations

Over the final two days of the conference, delegates discussed the characteristics of fatigued drivers and what steps could be taken to measure and limit fatigue by Government, the transport industry and the community who are both drivers and clients of the transport industry.

Who are fatigued drivers likely to be?

Whilst all road users are potentially likely to be affected by fatigue at one time or another, some groups of drivers are likely to be at high risk of fatigue. Furthermore, research has identified some factors which potentiate or predispose drivers to fatigue. They include temporal variables, environmental factors, and sleepiness factors. These are summarized in the accompanying table.

The table shows that not only driving hours but many other factors contribute to fatigue. The entries in the table could form an algorithm to predict the risk of driver fatigue. Thus, a driver who was a shift worker and had been consuming alcohol, who had been on successive nights of shift work, driving an unfamiliar route with a sleep debt, would be at high risk.

RECOMMENDATION ONE -- Driver fatigue arises not only from hours spent at the wheel but also from many other causes. Limiting driving hours does not address all the other causes of fatigue. Effective fatigue management will require that the other causes of fatigue are also addressed.

Measures to identify fatigued drivers

It was concluded that at the present time, there was no single, unequivocal, direct measurement of fatigue by which affected drivers may be identified. However, a number of possible measures are under development and hold the potential for improving fatigue management and regulation in the future. It is important that this research continues and the results made available to the community. These measures include in-vehicle monitoring, biomedical measures and self-assessment.

In-vehicle monitoring of the driver and vehicle:

The simplest of technological systems is the tachograph, which is considered unsatisfactory. Some transport companies already employ fleet management systems which could provide some useful information with which companies could better manage fatigue. More sophisticated systems will be available in the future which have the potential to monitor the state of alertness of the driver and warn the driver of declining alertness. Other systems are under development which monitor the departure of the driver's control of the vehicle from his or her norm. These systems have the potential to advise the driver of declining vehicle control for any reason including fatigue. However, they are retrospective devices for fatigue management.

Biomedical research:

This is being conducted into natural substances in the body which regulate sleepiness. Although the usefulness of this technology to drivers is many years away it has the potential to be an important proactive tool in fatigue management. Although a number of physiological measures of fatigue such as brain waves, have been investigated they are still at the pilot stage of development.

Drivers at risk of fatigue Temporal factors causing fatigue Environmental factors in fatigue Sleepiness factors

Young drivers
up to 25 years old

Dawn driving

Driving in remote areas
with featureless terrain

Driving with sleep debt

Drivers over 50

More than 16 hrs wakefulness before trip

Monotonous roads

Driving with a sleepiness condition


Length of work period before trip

Main arterial roads

Driving when normally asleep


Length of time since start of trip

Long-haul driving

Drivers disposed to nodding off

Those for whom driving is part of the job

Irregular shift work before trip

Unexpected demands, breakdowns, etc.

Driving after poor-quality sleep

Those with medical conditions (narcolepsy, etc.)

Driving after successive nights of shift work

Extreme climatic conditions

After consuming alcohol

Driving under time pressure

Driving an unfamiliar route

Driving after inadequate rest and sleep

Some drivers are drowsy in the afternoon

Self-assessment for fatigue:

This approach to detecting fatigue in drivers needs to be encouraged. At present this is the only way to detect fatigue. The research indicates that most drivers are aware of their likelihood of falling asleep but fail to appreciate the imminence of actually dropping off at the wheel. However, it is possible that a small proportion of drivers may not even be aware of the likelihood of falling asleep. It is noted that fatigue may impair the driver's ability to make the best decisions about what action to take. It is less clear to what extent drivers are aware of their own decline in vigilance during prolonged driving. Prolonged driving may therefore lead to impaired performance such as lengthened reaction times, increased risk taking and misperceptions long before nodding off occurs.

For self-assessment to be effective, education of the driving public and the industry about the warning signs of declining vigilance and drowsiness needs to be conducted. A start has been made in the USA and Australia. However, much remains to be done to inform drivers about the causes and dangers of declining vigilance and drowsiness. There is an important public health role for government in providing this education.

RECOMMENDATION TWO -- Whilst technical means of detecting fatigue are under development, self-assessment remains the only method currently available to detect fatigue. Education about the signs and dangers of impending fatigue is needed to support self-assessment.

Government responsibility for fatigue

It was concluded that government had four areas of responsibility with regard:

1) To promoting research into fatigue and potential solutions.

Government has ultimate responsibility for promoting research into the problem and evaluating the benefits of potential solutions. However, it was noted that industry involvement in research was desirable because of the need to collect data not only from drivers engaged in real haulage operations but also improve industry practices. A number of issues which need researching were identified at the conference. These include the following:

RECOMMENDATION THREE -- Government must play a central role in promoting research and evaluation of fatigue regulation measures.

2) To providing education about fatigue.

Government's role is essential in providing education about fatigue to the driver, industry and community. For drivers information on reducing their exposure to fatigue is important. This will involve media dissemination of information about the causes of fatigue, signs of declining vigilance and onset of drowsiness and the most appropriate countermeasures to fatigue. Health-related information needs dissemination among drivers including on sleep problems, drowsiness and drugs. Whilst regrettable, it is a fact that stimulant drug use is widespread in the road transport industry as a countermeasure to the sometimes unrealistic demands of delivery schedules. Because this is not recognized as a health problem no information is available on the drugs' effects and the costs to drivers' health. This information is vital to the industry if drug-related harm is to be minimized.

Government must lead in providing information on the costs and risks associated with fatigue and educating the industry to adopt better work practices and an occupational health and safety perspective to managing fatigue.

Government has a role in educating the community to strike a balance between the productivity and the safety of the transport industry. Whereas productivity may be enhanced by deregulated, unrestricted competition in the industry the safety implications of these work practices may be ignored. Government needs to encourage the provision of education about fatigue at all levels of the community; through the school system, community groups and the individual driver. Information should emphasize individual responsibility for fatigue including reporting for work in a fit state, adopting safer road user behavior, taking appropriate countermeasures and encouragement for public endorsement of better and safer company work practices. The latter could take the form of public recognition and promotion of companies delivering merchandise with quality and safety. The public must appreciate that their demands on the industry are partly responsible for the pressures on drivers to deliver on schedule and hence for fatigue causation.

RECOMMENDATION FOUR -- Government has a vital role in leading discussion and promoting education about fatigue at all levels of the community.

3) To improving the road environment.

Government has ultimate responsibility for road transport infrastructure. The cost effectiveness of several fatigue countermeasures such as audible edge lining, rumble strips, painted edge lining, adequate and sufficient rest areas needs to be fully investigated and implemented where possible. Improving the quality of the road transport system to better cope with the increasing fleet of light and heavy vehicles is a high priority for road safety.

RECOMMENDATION FIVE -- Government has a key role in implementing cost- effective road-based countermeasures to fatigue.

4) To providing appropriate regulation and enforcement.

Government has a role in bringing together the stakeholders in road transport to facilitate appropriate legislation to limit fatigue. Limiting driving hours may not be the most cost effective solution to controlling fatigue although it may be the most practicable strategy to ensure that drivers have adequate time for continuous sleep during each 24 hour period. However, it is difficult to enforce and undue emphasis on regulating driving hours may distract from alternative strategies such as the development of industry based Fatigue Management Programmes which may be more effective.

Appropriate legislation must be enforceable. It must produce an expectation that breaches will be prosecuted at all levels of the organization and not restricted to the driver. Non compliance with the legislation must not produce the expectation of commercial gain. An appropriate framework to control fatigue is the Occupational Health and Safety legislation. The development of an industry-wide Fatigue Management Plan was considered an appropriate mechanism to regulate fatigue. The introduction of fleet management systems and other in- vehicle technology will increase the effectiveness of such industry self- regulation, as long as records are auditable. Consideration needs to be given to in-vehicle technological systems for fatigue control which are self-enforcing, i.e. that constrain illegal vehicle usage.

Government also has a role in encouraging the implementation of improved accident reporting systems so that better data is available for judicial purposes and for research into crashes in which fatigue may be involved. At present insufficient information is recorded about crashes to determine the role of fatigue.

RECOMMENDATION SIX -- Government has a central role in leading the development of appropriate regulation and enforcement of fatigue countermeasures and of accident analyses.

Industry responsibility for fatigue

Industry was seen to have two areas of responsibility.

1) To employees and self-employed workers:

The industry has a duty of care for its workers and should provide a safe work environment as provided for in Occupational Health and Safety legislation. This includes setting reasonable trip schedules, regulating the driving and working hours of workers, providing adequate arrangements for rest and recovery at the depot and elsewhere and providing appropriate education on fatigue and other occupational health matters such as drug use to workers and their families. Industry should participate in the development of industry-wide Fatigue Management Programs as part of its self-regulation of fatigue. It should undertake to commission or sponsor research on its own behalf rather than being reliant on Government to provide the information required to regulate the industry. As part of its research program developments within the industry should be monitored to maintain Žbest practice' standards throughout.

RECOMMENDATION SEVEN -- The transport industry must play a more active role in setting occupational health and safety standards and adopting Žbest practices' throughout the industry.

2) To the community:

The industry has a responsibility to the community to provide not only a productive service but also a safe one. The community expectation is that merchandise and produce will be delivered in a timely and safe manner. To meet this expectation the industry must self-regulate effectively by adopting Fatigue Management Plans which are open to public audit. The industry should accept that regulation must take place at all levels of the organization, and that not only the driver but the organization is responsible for the effective operation of a Fatigue Management Plan.

RECOMMENDATION EIGHT -- The transport industry has a responsibility to the community for both a productive and also a safe transport environment and should take steps to ensure these expectations are met.

Community responsibility for fatigue

As drivers members of the public have responsibility for managing their own fatigue. To do so effectively they need education about causes and consequences of fatigue. In conjunction with Government initiated education on the causes of and countermeasures to fatigue, schools and community groups should promote fatigue-related information and activities.

As clients of the transport industry the community needs to consider the costs and benefits to it of a safer transport industry. Greater regulation of the industry by introducing work practices which may reduce fatigue, such as the effective limitation of working hours or adoption of Fatigue Management Programs, comes at a cost to the industry and ultimately the consumer. Research findings on the costs and benefits of different regulatory practices need public dissemination to stimulate debate and resolve the issue.

Several key areas need targeting at the individual and community levels.

RECOMMENDATION NINE -- The community should engage in education programs at all levels on the causes and countermeasures to fatigue. The costs and benefits of introducing safer work practices to better manage fatigue in the industry should be debated widely. For and on behalf of the Second International Conference
on Fatigue in Transportation:
Laurence R. Hartley, Ph.D.
Director, Institute for Research in Safety & Transport
Murdoch University
Western Australia
Tel: +61 (0)9 360 2398
Fax: +61 (0)9 360 6492

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Sleep Foundation,

I wanted to let you know that the National Sleep Foundation has launched a new site where you can share or create a memorial for a loved one lost to a drowsy driving crash. The site accepts stories and tributes from anyone whose life has been impacted by drowsy driving. It is a very moving and emotional site; you can read first-hand how a drowsy driving crash can happen to anyone at any time.

To share your memorial or story, please visit sleepfoundation org/ memorial The site also offers lots of grief related services and resources too.

Also, if you want to learn more about how to prevent drowsy driving, visit DrowsyDriving org -- there is a wealth of valuable information on the site.

Thank you.
National Sleep Foundation

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