The debate around fatigue management will continue well into the future, with little prospect of a real resolution. This is one of those issues which pits two, or three, different perspectives on an issue and each is diametrically opposed to each other.
On one side we have the trucking industry and a set of ingrained attitudes. We have done the job like this in the past and it worked. We got the job done. We are the people in the best position to decide when we need rest and we need no restrictions on the way we use our time.
Talk to the fatigue experts and this is not the issue. Yes, the work has to be done, but there are some hard and fast rules every driver must adhere too, otherwise safety on the highway will be disastrously compromised.
These opinions are backed up by scientific facts. The research has been done, the results are in, and they are statistically significant. The research can quantify the effect of fatigue on driving to the point where it is clear, no-one should drive a truck more then 14 hours in any day.
Then there are the others who are there just to jump on the bandwagon. Strict rules governing work, rest and play, down to the minute, with precise rules on record keeping, make it easy for roadside enforcement to pull over a driver, identify a breach and levy a fine. Job done.
Government agencies and departments can show they are taking truck driver fatigue seriously and are doing something. They have done their job and the problem of fatigue is under control. Again, job done.
This has been mitigated to a certain extent by the introduction of gradations of fatigue management. As a result, we have Standard, Basic and Advanced Fatigue Management, which, at the time of their introduction, looked like a smart solution.
However, out on the highway and in the offices of those looking after compliance for trucking companies, life was anything but easy. Standard worked for those who have an operation with the kind of tasks which don’t push the envelope too far and can live with twelve hours driving. Basic worked for the fleet who have a lot of longer distance work and can tailor operations to suit the regime.
The problem lay with the AFM. This was designed for those operations where a simple BFM scheme would not work, where certain aspects of the freight task were just too hard to fit into the prescriptive model. More work would be involved in developing the AFM scheme, but the reward would be solutions to those difficult legs which cause problems for operations.
It was sold to the industry as being a way to show a more responsible attitude and get a regulatory advantage. In fact, it became a nightmare for many, as the compensatory behaviours, longer rest periods in return for one long shift, turned out to be almost impossible to get past the final hurdle, the panel of fatigue experts.
This meant AFM got parked up a dead end street. A few brave souls persisted and got their schemes over the line, and, to all reports, these are working well, working productively for the operation. There were also vain attempts to get more generic schemes up for sectors of the industry with particular issues, like the livestock transporters.
All of these came to nought, as the complex issues brought up by the fatigue experts could not be resolved by the hard working souls trying to squeeze their scheme into the strait jacket of rules.
Ten years on, and we finally seem to have found some sort of solution. Again, the livestock industry has developed an AFM scheme which will solve its issues, but this time the whole process has been done through the prism of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, it has sat in between operators and fatigue regulators and worked out a solution.
What is the difference? Have the fatigue experts opinions changed? Has the NHVR managed the impossible? Have the livestock transport requirements changed?
No, the only clear difference is, we now have a credible institution involved with regulating the trucking industry which has the trust of both the industry and the regulators. It’s about time!