Fatigue Management and Driving
Most fatigue-related accidents occur during normal sleeping hours, and the more severe the crash, the more likely it is that the driver or drivers were fatigued. Fatigue is a likely factor in almost one third of single-vehicle crashes in rural areas.
Fatigue is one of the leading factors contributing to road crashes. Fatigue contributes to 20-30% of all deaths and severe injuries on the road – National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020, Australian Transport Council (2011).
Authorities include driving when fatigued alongside speeding, drink and drug driving, failure to wear a seatbelt, and distraction and inattention, which together make up the Fatal Five Road Safety Campaign.
In October 2016, a New Zealand Coroner released findings of the enquiry into the deaths of Gabriel Conor Runge and Andre Daniel Vogel, who were visiting New Zealand on a school trip with Noosa Pengari Steiner School in October 2014 at the time of their deaths in a motor vehicle crash.
QORF acknowledges the pain that this crash has caused to family and friends of both Gabriel Runge and Andre Vogel. It is important that lessons can be learned. QORF does not in any way diminish their loss, and apologises for any further distress that could occur from re-publicising the circumstances of this loss.
Andre Vogel was a teacher at the Noosa Pengari Steiner School, where Gabriel Runge was a student. The school trip was a multi-day outdoor education expedition in the Tongariro National Park area in the North Island of New Zealand.
Andre Vogel was driving a mini-bus with another teacher and seven year 10 students on board when it collided with a milk tanker. As a result of that collision, Gabriel Runge and Andre Vogel died. All occupants of the mini-bus suffered injuries and some were serious.
The Coroner asked an expert witness to address issues of fatigue and drowsiness and the role of those elements in this crash, in context of determining recommendations that may be made to reduce the chances of occurrence of other deaths in similar circumstances.
The expert witness highlighted the issue of transitioning from activity with high stimulation (such as outdoor activities) to an activity of very low stimulation (driving on a high speed rural highway). The expert “said that this type of transition can often unmask latent sleepiness. The monotonous task of driving has a propensity to increase this sleepiness.”
The expert witness “concluded that the sustained physical and mental activity, cumulative sleep deprivation and vulnerability to latent sleepiness – were all factors that contributed to driver fatigue and existed in the activity of Mr Vogel prior to the crash.”
The Court found “to the required standard of proof which is on the balance of probability that driver fatigue was the primary factor that contributed to the crash”.
The Court made several comments and observations, including the following:
- Organisations and drivers in general need to look at their driving protocols to see whether they are sufficient in terms of fatigue and/or drowsiness.
- There is a need for extreme care and vigilance when there is a physical activity such as hiking reasonable distances for several days prior to a road trip, and proper procedures are in place to ensure the driver(s) are properly monitored.
The Court recommended that specific policies for identifying and preventing driver fatigue should be reviewed and/or established. The Court further recommended that “consideration be given to a requirement that for outdoor education excursion, there be an observer in the vehicle who is awake at all times and observant, and trained in the signs of driver fatigue of a driver.”
In November 2016, the Outdoor Educators Association of Queensland convened a meeting to discuss learnings for our sector from this tragic incident. While this discussion was focussed on outdoor education activities, fatigue management and driving safety is a subject that affects outdoor activities generally.
The transition from outdoor activities to driving is something that should be considered by all activity leaders and participants. Although Queensland and Australia boast some spectacular terrain, we also have some very boring, long, straight roads.
Questions for outdoor people whose operations include driving:
- What reasonable steps can you take to ensure that participants in your activities are not driving while fatigued?
- Do you have a driver fatigue prevention policy?
- When did you last review/update your driver fatigue prevention policy?
- Is your driver fatigue prevention policy always followed?
- Do you comply with that policy in your private life, as well as while at work? If not, why not?
- If you don’t have a driver fatigue prevention policy, why not?
Remember – the adventure isn’t finished when we return to the car park and go our separate ways after a hike, ride, paddle or climb. The greatest experience in the outdoors is swiftly forgotten if not everyone on the trip makes it home safely.
(Source: Dom Courtney, QORF)