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Driver fatigue in European road transport

According to a study conducted by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), fatigue among professional drivers is now the norm on European roads.

The ETF’s report, based on a survey of around 3,000 truck, bus and coach drivers, is the first EU-wide study in 15 years on driver fatigue in passenger and freight road transport. The findings include that 60% of truck drivers and 66% of bus and coach drivers have to drive while fatigued on a regular basis. Also, nearly one third of lorry drivers have reported falling asleep at the wheel while driving.

The ETF is calling on policymakers and employers to eliminate driver fatigue at the core of the EU road safety strategy, ensuring that professional drivers’ pay, working time and rest conditions are properly enforced.

The Driver Fatigue in European Road Transport report, published last month, warns, that driver fatigue could be a much greater problem than the research suggests.

There were two objectives to the study:

  • To describe the nature and extent of driver fatigue in the road passenger and freight transport sector in Europe.

  • To examine the specific working conditions of professional drivers and how these conditions lead to endemic fatigue in the sector.

The researchers note that some drivers may not recognise the symptoms of fatigue and may not even be aware that they are fatigued until an accident happens.

“In drivers, it leads to a decrease in mental and physical functioning, which in turn leads to poor steering control, decreased reaction time, poor speed tracking and loss of attention and hazard perception,” the researchers note.

According to the latest data from the EU’s CARE database on road accidents, 4,002 people died in accidents involving trucks and 594 died in accidents involving buses or coaches in 2016.

Existing studies identify lack of sleep, poor quality sleep and specific sleep demands as factors that can cause driver fatigue. However, the ETF study argues that poor working and employment conditions are among the underlying reasons accounting for a shortage of sleep in the first place.

A major contributor to fatigue is the total extent of working time, the researchers argue. Bus, coach and truck drivers” work is characterised by long hours, which the researchers note leaves insufficient time for recuperation and restorative sleep.

The study revealed that 88% of surveyed truck drivers and 60% of bus and coach drivers had worked more than 40 hours per week. A significant proportion of those surveyed worked more than 50 hours per week.

The research also found that work pressure from employers or clients was identified as a significant contributor to fatigue. The researchers highlighted tight schedules and scheduling demands as particular issues as these often have a negative influence on breaks and rest times.

“Our research shows that a large share of drivers – especially bus and coach drivers – who, because of fatigue, have wanted to make an unplanned stop to take a break, have actually not been able to do so,” the researchers said.

The ETF’s recommendations include a number relating to employers’ responsibilities, notably the implementation of company-wide Fatigue Risk Management strategies from senior management level down.

These should include the provision of better equipment for vehicles, such as proper air conditioning, shift planning well in advance, and the reduction of physical labour for drivers as physically demanding work is one cause of fatigue.

The ETF is also calling for a reduction in the working hours for drivers and a reduction in the number of consecutive days that need to be worked.

“As our data analysis has shown, the way working time is documented has a bearing on fatigue; in companies where working hours are rigorously documented, drivers are less affected by fatigue,” the researchers note.

“Employers therefore need to ensure that all time spent on work-related tasks is counted as working time and is properly recorded (and paid for).”

In relation to rest time, the ETF recommends two measures – increasing the length of rest between shifts and ensuring that breaks are fully used to rest and relax.

“A very direct way in which employers can influence driver fatigue is to ensure reasonable work schedules that avoid or limit, night driving, inadequate daily rests and over-long work shifts,” the report notes.

The ETF also recommends that employers remove the pressure on drivers that arises from excessively tight schedules, most notably by reducing the number of just-in-time deliveries.

The researchers note that the existing regulatory framework does not solve the issue of driver fatigue. The report recommends strengthening the regulations and improving the enforcement of current rules through checks and sanctions.

IOSH Magazine/EU-OSHA July 2021


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