Flexibility in driving hours

The regulations on driving hours for heavy vehicle drivers are currently under review again, and it’s safe to say there is some concern how they will be structured.

Some may say that each time the regulations are reviewed, there is a new tidal wave of criticism from most sectors of the industry, but most often, there is a reason to it.

While no one will deny the need to manage fatigue in the road transport industry – the effects and possible consequences are well documented – drivers criticise that they are not given the opportunity to manage their own fatigue depending on individual levels of alertness. As a result, those who realise they are tired in the early stages of a journey won’t find it easy to take a break and still comply with driving hours regulations.

We all know that a small number of drivers have been pushing the limits in the past to fit in another load and increase their profitability – particularly in the owner-driver ranks – and it’s certainly a major concern for those who have worked diligently to stamp the practice out. But we still have to ask ourselves if the regulations have become too inflexible.

Yes, limitations on driving times are extremely important, no argument, but the ability to allow rest periods outside of legislated times must be thoroughly investigated to improve and possibly increase rest times and safety.

It is a vexing problem for those charged with developing new regulations, but it must be recognised that there are significant incidents attributable to fatigue not long after the commencement of a trip, despite the fact the driver has had a mandated break of at least 24 hours.

Obviously there are many contributing factors to the underlying problem – such as spending time with the family instead of sleeping or financial concerns, but under current regulations, a driver is penalised if they take a break too early in the trip. Once the driving time is interrupted, it is impossible to regain those hours in the work diary.

While many fatigue experts have valid and irrefutable arguments for establishing a driving hours regime, it is also true that individual drivers have individual rest needs. I am not for allowing unregulated driving hours, far from it, and like to hope all behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle recognise rest needs and take appropriate action – but a tired driver will push on if the diary tells him he will lose time if a break is taken.

There is no easy answer to developing driving hours regulations that please all operators, but there needs to be a high degree of flexibility to allow drivers who need rest, and most will tell you they suffer from tiredness at unusual times and never in a regular pattern.

Consultation with those at grass roots level would probably a different picture for regulators.


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