Truck drivers are pushed over the limit

Results from one of the largest ever surveys of truck drivers show around forty per cent of truck drivers report being pressured into breaking fatigue regulations and one in four have said they are forced to drive at excessive speeds in order to meet deadlines.


The Transport Workers’ Union’s 2011 Safe Rates Survey was conducted over a three-week period ending on 11 November 2011, and took comments from 715 transport workers from across the country.


TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said: “These shocking results again confirm the deadly squeeze that powerful industry clients like the major retailers apply to drivers and operators. With no way to ensure cost recovery on essentials like fuel and maintenance, or when forced to work slabs of unpaid waiting time, truck drivers have to push themselves to – and sometimes through – the limit.”


The survey shows that:

  • Unpaid work: 48 per cent of drivers report almost one day a week in unpaid waiting time. For delivery drivers it is more than 10 hours a week. This represents 300 – 500 hours a year working without pay.

  • Unsafe vehicles: an alarming 56 per cent of owner-drivers have had to forego vehicle maintenance because of economic pressure.

  • Unnecessary risk: 27 per cent of drivers felt they had to drive too fast, and nearly 40 per cent feel pressured to drive longer than legally allowed as a result of client pressure.

The deadly consequences end up as ‘statistics’ like the Department of Infrastructure and Transport’s 2010 Road Deaths Australia Report, which shows 256 deaths in crashes involving heavy trucks, seven fatalities more than the year before. The number of deaths in trucks under 4.5 tonnes is not formally calculated, but is generally known to be high.


“But these are not statistics – each one of the 330 average killed in these incidents is a cared-for community member: a husband, a wife, sister or brother, cherished son or daughter,” Mr Sheldon said.


Australian Trucking Association owner-driver representative Frank Black said: “When almost half the drivers surveyed say they are spending a day-plus a week unpaid, sitting and waiting to load and unload, and you see guys driving out of yards dog-tired before they even start so they can make the next slot.


“Last month I was one of the first on the scene when B-double cattle truck crashed in Blackwater, Queensland. The two guys in the truck were hurt, and one was flown to Brisbane with serious head injuries. It was lucky there was nobody coming the other way.


“We didn’t know what had happened but we found the second guy 150 metres up the road sitting there saying over and over, ‘I was in the truck, I was just in the truck.’ I used my shirt to stop his blood.”


Mr Black said that the incident had left him shaken after he and other drivers arrived on the scene to assist the seriously injured men, and were surrounded by dead and dying cattle.


Mr Sheldon said that Safe Rates was about addressing the economic factors that contribute to fatigue, speeding, and crashes and deaths in the road transport industry.


“Safe Rates will mean that powerful clients in the industry will have to use their economic power and influence to increase safety and standards in supply chains.


“All of the evidence tells us that we need an independent tribunal to establish and maintain enforceable rates and related conditions. All drivers must be able make a living for themselves and their families, and safely,” Mr Sheldon said.


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