New research on driver fatigue

Holiday drivers leaving home often put themselves in the same dangerous situations as shiftwork and contract commuters returning home.

That is according to CQU researcher Lee Di Milia, who has just completed a study of driver fatigue suffered by shiftworkers and contractors who often drive long distances home after night work or after long stints on the job.

Dr Di Milia said holiday drivers may be tempted to leave before dawn and drive all day to get their destination so they will have more time to relax. However, he said those tempted to dash to their holiday would be safer if they traveled during the day and broke their journey to enjoy the trip more.

“When we talk about driver fatigue zones, it is not necessarily the road conditions at fault; it is also the condition of the driver who is trying to travel between two far-flung cities without having a break.” Dr Di Milia said introduction of extended working shifts and increased use of contractors had produced an occupational health and safety issue not previously considered in risk assessment; the impact of driver fatigue in addition to long work shifts.

He said extended shifts enabled some workers to parcel several days away into a series of short but regular holidays that are made possible by driving long distances. However, since long roster breaks usually follow a series of night shifts a mounting level of fatigue could be compounded by driving.

“Driving after working night shift is considered most problematic and longer distances serve to potentially increase the risk. However, those working four to five 12-hour day shifts also reported high levels of fatigue when driving home.” Dr Di Milia said the trend towards drive-in drive-out contractors created another pool of workers keen to drive long distances home immediately after extended stints of work.

“The underlying causes of driver fatigue appear to be associated with driving during the early morning period, working long shifts and driving after having worked a series of night shifts.” One study which examined driver fatigue in employees who lived closer to their workplace showed that average sleepiness and driving impairment of shiftworkers were greater at the end of day and in cases of night shift. Night shift was the most problematic, with 59% reporting being more sleepy than alert. About 3% of shiftworkers reported incidents as a result of falling asleep including lane drift and running off the road.

A second study examined driver fatigue in drive-in drive-out workers. Some workers reported leaving home as early as 3am and driving up to 230km. Results suggested the earlier in the day the drive started the higher were sleepiness and driving impairment values. One group of drive-in drive-out workers studied left home at 2am and drove up to 1300km. This group recorded the highest levels of sleepiness and driving impairment.

“With the workplace issue we are encouraging employers and employees to cooperate on solutions. Some sort of short-term facility for a recovery sleep might be an idea worth discussing.

These studies have some implications for holiday-makers. These include not commencing journey’s in the early morning, not aiming to cover long distances without regular breaks and not driving through the night period.

“Holiday drivers really need to take responsibility for their own family safety. This responsibility might include taking a break in the early afternoon when their body expects a siesta.”

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