LONG HAUL: Damian Radburn in a B-double built for long haul trips says fatigue management is a high priority with his drivers.Truck drivers who are paid by the trip or the kilometre take fewer breaks and more drugs when driving, a new study has found.
In a paper presented to an international conference in Berlin this week, two Monash University researchers studied the way truck drivers’ compensation related to fatigue behind the wheel.
About 350 drivers in NSW and WA were surveyed over two years, in one of the largest studies of driver behaviour and compensation undertaken in Australia.
The researchers found that drivers who were paid a “piece rate” – or on a per-kilometre or per-trip basis – drove for an average of up to 5.3 hours between breaks. This was an hour longer than those paid a salary or hourly wage.
“Anything above four hours is really starting to get into higher-risk territory,” Jason Thompson, a co-author of the study and research fellow at the Monash Accident Research Centre, said.
More than 70 per cent of drivers surveyed were paid on an incentive, piece rate basis, a figure that rose even higher among NSW drivers.
Drivers paid on an incentive basis were also more likely to admit to using amphetamines behind the wheel: nearly 10 per cent of those who were paid per trip did so, compared with 2 per cent for those paid per kilometre and none on weekly or hourly wages.
“They reported all the signs of trying to fight sleepiness,” Mr Thomson said. “The fact that people are trying to fight fatigue and some people are going to lose that fight is concerning.”
Drivers on incentive payments reported slightly less sleepiness and fatigue. They also drove up to 150 kilometres a day more on average and were more likely to have slept in their truck the night before.
The new research comes as the federal government considers the future of the Gillard government’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, a national body with the power to set pay and conditions for truck drivers.
A review into the body was handed to Employment Minister Eric Abetz but is yet to be released.
The minister told federal parliament there was no evidence to justify claims of a link between remuneration and safety but declined to comment for this story.
Transport Workers’ Union assistant state secretary Michael Aird said the study’s findings proved a link between pressure on drivers and safety.
“There needs to be safe rates for truck drivers if lives are to be saved,” Mr Aird said. “The Prime Minister needs to decide if he’ll back truck drivers and the community and support the RSRT’s efforts to deal with the systemic issues causing over 300 deaths a year.”
National Road Transport Association chief executive Chris Melham said he backed the abolition of the national regulator.
“Despite an increase in the number of heavy vehicles on our roads and the distances travelled, accidents involving heavy vehicles are continuing to reduce at an increased rate,” he said.
Heavy trucks make up about 3 per cent of road traffic but more than 15 per cent of fatalities, according to the federal Department of Transport.
Damian Radburn is a director and driver at Kerden Haulage, South Nowra.
The company has 22 drivers and has never had a fatigue-related crash.
Mr Radburn said their long-distance drivers were paid by the kilometre and their local drivers were on a wage.
He said all drivers were told the freight was never worth the cost of a life.
“Most of our drives stop about midnight to sleep and start up again at about 7am. That way they’re not driving through those higher risk hours,” he said.
Mr Radburn’s sentiments were echoed by Terry Willett from Longfords Southern Delivery.
Mr Willett has driven trucks since 1970 and remembers circumstances that were very different to what today’s drivers work with.
“It was a time when drivers managed their own fatigue and were hauling loads with much less power than the trucks of today,” he said.
“I was doing interstate when trucks only had 150 to 210 horsepower on highways where you had to pull the mirror in or it would get knocked off.
“Now the trucks are far more powerful and on four-lane expressways.
“The first three trucks I ever drove put together don’t equal the horse power that I’ve got now.
“Today’s drivers are not doing any more kilometres now than we were doing way back when.
“Yes, we have come a long way as far as technology is concerned, but now the money you can earn doesn’t justify the expense.”
He said drivers paid by the trip or kilometre might push to cover more distance.
“Trip money encourages you to get in and get the job done, normally overnight and over longer distances.
“But with the log book restrictions, trip money can’t make you do things you’re legally not allowed to do. You have to take rest breaks,” he said.
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