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Drivers Corner

The hard numbers on fatigue and how to protect yourself

The numbers on fatigue are in – and there’s good news and bad. According to the just-released NTARC 2021 Major Accident Investigation Report, fatigue-related crashes are at their lowest recorded level. Still, they remain the largest single cause of truck driver deaths.

The National Truck Accident Research Centre (NTARC) has analysed data from insurer NTI’s large loss claims database for the last decade. 

Adam Gibson, Transport and Logistics Risk Engineer at NTI, has authored the last six reports. “Over that time,” he says, “we’ve seen a dramatic improvement in the safety performance of the Australian road transport industry.”

“Over the past decade we’ve seen an improvement in the safety performance of the trucking industry, going from 1.4 deaths per billion tonne-kilometres of freight moved down to 0.9, which is a 36% reduction. 

“That means Australia’s transport industry is one of the safest, if not the safest, in the world.

“That’s a success to be celebrated.”

However, the report busted some myths about fatigue-related incidents, as Adam explains:

“Most of the truck drivers who have fatigue crashes are not young, and they’re not inexperienced. They’re on familiar routes doing familiar tasks.” 

Fatigue is the single biggest cause of driver deaths

“Even though fatigue-related truck crashes are at their lowest recorded level, fatigue remains the single biggest cause of crashes where truck drivers lose their lives,” Adam says.

The good news is that the overall trend is downwards; after plateauing from 2017 to 2019, the rate of fatigue crashes dropped again, down to eight per cent of all large loss crashes.

Most fatigue crash drivers had more than a decade’s experience

One ‘myth’ is that fatigue is only a problem for inexperienced drivers who don’t know how to manage their time and alertness. But fatigue crashes don’t just happen to inexperienced drivers. 

“The report shows that being a veteran is no protection,” Adam says, with most drivers involved in fatigue crashes having more than a decade behind the wheel. 

Fatigue risk is highest between midnight and 6 am

The report also shows that the small hours – between midnight and 6 am – are the worst for fatigue crashes. It’s a message that operators have taken onboard.

“We’re seeing fewer drivers doing the extreme hours that were once more common,” Adam says. 

“We see a lot of operators that now have their trucks parked up from 10pm to 4am.

“To those operators, we say ‘thank you’. It’s a wonderful example of the interplay between the report and the industry’s operational practices.”

How to protect yourself

Adam says there are three key steps you can take to protect yourself against having a fatigue crash:

  • Get good quality sleep: “Caffeine, alcohol, stress and being overweight can all reduce your sleep quality. Getting less than five hours sleep affects your judgment as much as if you have 0.05% blood alcohol.”
  • Use a driver management system (DMS): “We know they’re controversial, but the simple fact is they save lives. They can also make you a better, more alert driver and make your day-to-day work easier.”
  • Stay off the roads between midnight and 6 am: “Check your routes and schedules. If it looks like you’ll be driving past midnight, flag it.”

Adam says the most important step for any driver is to realise that “you’re not a super-trucker; fatigue happens to everyone.”

The good news is it’s a problem the industry can fix – starting with a good night’s sleep.

Download a copy of the NTARC 2021 report at

  1. This article has been developed as part of NTI’s The Business of Safety series with the aim of helping transport and logistics businesses become safer and more sustainable. The Business of Safety is funded by the NHVR’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative, supported by the Australian Government. Information in this document is a guide only. It does not take into account your personal or business circumstances. Whilst all due care has been taken, you must not rely on the information as an alternative to legal, legislated regulatory and compliance requirements associated with your business activities.  
  2. NTI.M002.1.28062021

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