In the absence of specific government guidance, fleet managers must have in place effective risk management to combat driver fatigue, says David Faithful
Since the Selby tragedy and the subsequent conviction of Gary Hart, who allegedly fell asleep at the wheel of his vehicle, the question of driver fatigue has risen to prominence. Road safety organisations have called for an increase in awareness of the issues and possible further legislation to penalise drivers who cause accidents while tired.Unlike alcohol, which is detectable and measurable, it is practically impossible after an accident to determine whether a driver fell asleep driving, defined as a micro-sleep. Accidents are often put down to a momentary lack of concentration and, with all of the distractions in today's driving environment, this is hardly surprising. But to maintain that an accident occurred solely as a result of driver fatigue is difficult to prove in both the civil and criminal courts. I am only aware of one case among many thousands where the weight of evidence led to the conclusion that the driver fell asleep at the wheel. We are handicapped by the fact that no statistical data is collected after road traffic accidents to determine whether fatigue was indeed a factor. It is practically impossible to back the contention that fatigue is a significant cause of road traffic accidents in this country with accurate data.I remain to be convinced that fatigue causes such a significant number of work-related road accidents that further government intervention is appropriate. However, fleet managers should not ignore the issue of tired drivers. Managers and the drivers of commercial fleets are used to the concept of tachographs recording how a vehicle is being driven. But even with the introduction of digital tachographs, there is no data being collected in terms of the fitness of the driver in terms of fatigue.The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines for employers managing work-related road safety have been with us since September 2003. These address the issue of driver fatigue in a number of ways. The section related to training issues asks employers if their drivers are aware of the dangers of fatigue and whether they know what to do when they feel sleepy. The issue of taking a course of medicine is mentioned in the fitness section but not specifically connected to the risk of fatigue.Fatigue is raised as a specific issue to be considered by fleet managers with regard to scheduling, time and distance. Sadly, the guidance makes no positive recommendations as to how fleet managers should react to these concerns other than requiring drivers to take rest breaks. The HSE guidance is very good at highlighting issues but not so forthcoming in supplying the tools or solutions a fleet manager requires to produce a risk assessment, policy and method of testing to establish whether the driver is complying with the policy.
Rest regulationsThe sole purpose of the Working Time (Amendment Regulations) 2003 is to prevent employees working excessive hours, which could in turn lead to fatigue. The previous regulations did not address the issue of work-related drivers as vehicle driving was specifically excluded. This has now been rectified by the recognition of a class of employees, "mobile workers", who are defined as drivers of vehicles carrying goods or passengers. Government consultation is currently being undertaken into the activities of mobile workers and by March 2005 specific rules will be put in place governing the working hours of these individuals. Until 2005 such drivers and all company car drivers will be governed by the regulations that were not specifically prepared with them in mind. This is apparent when one looks at the area of fatigue where the regulations provide four definitions: