Accident study throws doubt on road transport policies

Driver fatigue and inappropriate speed for the conditions have topped the list of major accident causes in the latest accident investigation report by National Transport Insurance (NTI), with the Australian Trucking Association claiming the study raised important questions about the safety benefits of electronic heavy vehicle speed and fatigue monitoring.
Combined, the two causes were found to be responsible for almost 50% of all serious truck accidents. The results are part of NTI’s National Centre of Truck Accident Research’s 2009 report into 325 major crash incidents that occurred during 2007.
The latest research identified that:
  • Driver fatigue and inappropriate speed for the conditions were found to be the predominant cause accounting for almost one in two serious truck accidents (47.7%).
  • With 20.6% of the losses, Mondays were found to be the worst day with February through to May the worst months consistently for major truck crashes.
  • In three out of four cases, no other vehicles were involved.
  • One in six serious truck crashes occurred on Australia’s National Highway 1, with Queensland’s Bruce Highway recording the most incidents.
  • NSW’s continued investment in road infrarstructure appears to have led to fewer serious truck crashes.
According to Owen Driscoll, NTI’s industry affairs and customer relations manager, the research should be used to help improve conditions for drivers.
“NTI is yet to be convinced that the new heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws will make any difference, particularly given the confusion arising with differing implementation by state transport agencies,” he said.
“The shortage and inaccessibility of truck rest areas remains an opportunity for governments to assist the trucking industry in managing fatigue.”
The report continues a series of research studies conducted by the insurer into a cohort of Australian heavy vehicles involved in serious accidents since 1998.
The previous report released in 2007 also found fatigue and inappropriate speed to be the major accident causes.
National Transport Insurance is Australia’s largest truck insurance specialist. NTI provides claims & accident management services to the transport industry. NTI insures more than 106,000 items of equipment, worth over AUD$7.8 billion in total, on behalf of over 13,000 policyholders. Founded in 1971, NTI is an equal partner joint venture of CGU and Vero Insurance.
Responding to the report, the chairman of the Australian Trucking Association, Trevor Martyn, said the study raised important questions about the safety benefits of electronic heavy vehicle speed and fatigue monitoring. Australia’s transport ministers have decided to press ahead with electronic monitoring without holding a trial first.
“The NTI study shows that driver fatigue and inappropriate speed for the conditions accounted for almost one in two serious truck accidents,” Mr Martyn said.
“But the vast majority (89.3 per cent) of the fatigue crashes occurred on outbound journeys within 500 kilometres of the point of departure. What’s more, one in four fatigue crashes were on Mondays – for many, the start of the working week.
“None of these accidents would have been prevented by electronic fatigue monitoring, because the drivers would have been well within the regulated hours programmed into the electronic systems.
“According to the study, the vast majority (77.5 per cent) of the speed-related crashes were due to trucks rolling over because they were going too fast when they changed direction.
“Again, many of these accidents would not have been prevented by electronic speed monitoring. The trucks could well have been travelling within the legal speed limit, but were going too fast for the conditions.
“The study shows that governments can’t rely on fatigue and speed monitoring to reduce truck accidents. What the industry needs are specifications that would allow operators to use their existing fleet management systems, which in many cases already have the capability to record speed and driving hours.
"This would reduce the administrative burden on truck drivers, which would make their jobs easier and help them avoid fines for innocent mistakes. The records produced by the systems would be available for independent audit and verification.
“Instead of relying on electronic monitoring to reduce accidents, the industry and governments need to place a renewed emphasis on driver health and on making sure that drivers are fit for duty when they start work.
“The best way that trucking companies can do this is to join the ATA’s TruckSafe program, which has a mandatory driver health module. Every operator in the TruckSafe program has to meet strict standards on driver health and is audited regularly.
“As the study points out, consignors need to make a conscious effort to reduce stress and fatigue at the start of drivers’ shifts by using better loading practices, making sure departures occur on time, and making sure time slots are achievable.
“The study also suggests that governments need to focus on building more rest areas within a 500 kilometre radius of the major cities, so drivers can easily find a place to stop and cool down after the teeth-grinding frustration of getting loaded and getting through the city traffic.
“The Australian Government is deciding the rest areas that will be funded in the first year of its $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program. The ATA will be drawing these study results to the Government’s attention as it finalises the program,” he said.
Mr Martyn said the study confirmed the safety benefits of building better roads, with a substantial reduction in the number of accidents on the Hume, Pacific and Newell highways in New South Wales.
“Later this year, the Australian Government will announce the first nation-building projects under its Building Australia Fund. The trucking industry has urged the government to continue investing in roads, which will improve safety for every road user and boost Australia’s productivity," Mr Martyn said.
The NTI study examines the cause of 325 major crashes that occurred in 2007, and builds on previous studies conducted by the insurer in 2003 and 2005. The NTI crash study reported can be downloaded from or to request a printed copy, email

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