Fatigue – ‘The new drunk’

As an ex-professional driver, there are rules, laws, regulations and guidelines, not to mention company policies to combat the effects of fatigue.  From a professional point of view, there have been only a couple of companies I’ve worked for that haven’t forced me to work while fatigued.  Yes, I know I have the right to say no, but altimatums such as “If you can’t do it, I’ll find someone who can” and statements such as  “You knew what we expected of you when you accepted the job” come from the lips of the manager.  In fact, just recently I spent 7 weeks in a cast after falling and breaking a bone in my wrist as a direct result of lost concentration due to having already worked 33.5hrs between Monday and Wednesday Midday when I had the accident at work.

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I recall being behind the wheel of a truck at one point, just ticking over the 58hr mark for the week, and not remembering the last 45 minutes.  It’s not that I was actually asleep at the wheel, it’s just that my concentration levels were affecting my memory.  It’s scary to think, that going over the point of recognised fatigue is as good as being drunk.  I was in control of 50 tonnes !!!

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Research found that after 17 hours without sleep, our alertness is similar to the effects of a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%, which according to U.S. law is considered “impaired” on the legally drunk scale. – Here in Australia the limit os 0.02% !!!!

Fatigue isn’t just something that happens when you’ve done too much physical work.   The fatigue I suffered from came from the many hours of constant concentration.   My body felt fine.   I recall talking to my boss about the danger of fatigue and that reducing my hours by just 1 a day would greatly help.  I was told “If you can’t keep up, maybe you should find an office job”.  Great huh.!!

Here in Australia, anyone driving a vehicle with a GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) of 4.5t and over, when travelling more than 100km from the companies depot, must complete a National Driver Work Diary, supplied through the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.   I have one, and have used it many times.  I have also thrown several of these diaries out of the truck window at the request (demand) of my manager, and told to lie to any officer that pulls me over saying that I must have left it on the trailer at the last stop.  Highly unorthodox, not to mention the legalities.

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Now away from that industry and occupation, I look back and am thankful I made the decision to leave.  The transport industry is accredited with many disastrous road accidents, lives impacted and of course lost.  It makes me angry that employers can threaten the livelihood of their employees and endanger other road users life’s, all in the name of a better bottom line.   I can decisively say,  the overtime isn’t worth it when your driving 80 hours a week.  You just don’t have time to spend it.  I used to leave work 7.5hrs before I was due back and underway again.

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From a non-professional point of view.  I’m a very responsible driver.  Knowing what the effects of fatigue are, how they affect your decision-making, concentration and reaction times, I don’t take the risk.  I don’t have an employer breathing down my neck, and can make use of the many rest stops on the freeways and interstate roads.  We even have “driver revive” stations where a caravan is set up as a cafe, and free coffee and tea are on offer for responsible drivers who take a rest.

 

I’m originally from New Zealand.  It’s a beautiful place, and driving in New Zealand is as easy as it gets.  The toughest thing about driving there is concentrating on the road as there’s so much to see outside of the car and away from the road its easy to get distracted.  Fatigue was never really an issue for anyone I knew.  The longest drive I ever did was 4 hours.  In fact, no matter where you are in New Zealand, you can drive to either coast in under 4 hours.  Great if you surf !!  It wasn’t until I moved to Australia that I became away what a real drive was.  Driving from Adelaide to Melbourne took 7.5 hours.  I needed to stop half way !!   16 years later and I can easily drive from Melbourne to Sydney, a 10 hour drive (not including stops).  I wouldn’t attempt this though without preparation.   Rest up before the drive, get a good nights sleep and eat a healthy breakfast.  Simple.

There are many websites, road safety publications etc that give great advice on how to tackle long drives.   My advice is simply this;

  • If you feel tired stop
  • eat healthy snacks while driving long distances (greasy takeout and fat fried food just make you more tired)
  • drink plenty of water – coffee and energy drinks “pep” you up but make you crash hard later
  • talk to your passengers, sing along to a song, tap the steering wheel – active isn’t asleep
  • plan the journey

 

Safe travels out there everyone in the lead up to the warmer months (and cooler months here in the southern atmosphere).

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