European driver fatigue at 'epidemic levels'

Survey of professional drivers in Europe finds majority are regularly fatigued, with one in three lorry drivers falling asleep at the wheel

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A new study published today (June 3) reveals that levels of professional driver fatigue throughout Europe are at epidemic levels, mirroring previous survey’s conducted by Unite.

The survey, received responses from drivers in 28 European countries and was undertaken by the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF), the confederation of European transport unions. It was the first time in 15 years that such a large scale survey has been undertaken.

The survey found that two thirds of professional drivers regularly feel fatigued, including 60 per cent of lorry drivers and 66 per cent of bus and coach drivers. More alarmingly the survey found that 30 per cent of lorry drivers and 24 per cent of bus and coach drivers have fallen asleep whilst driving at least once in the last year.

The ETF believes that driver fatigue is a major factor in fatal road accidents. The latest European- wide figures show that in 2016 there were 4,002 people killed in road accidents involving lorries and 594 people killed in accidents involving buses or coaches.

The policy recommendations being championed by the ETF to tackle driver fatigue include respect for working a 40 hour week, ensuring that all working time is fully recorded, and that breaks are respected and not interrupted.

The ETF has additionally called for fair pay levels and shifts and rotas that are regular and predictable.

The timing of the survey’s findings are particularly important as due to a shortage of lorry drivers in the UK, food retailers are currently lobbying the government to relax the driving hours regulations, which govern driving time, which will result in existing drivers being required to work for even longer.

The findings of the ETF survey are in line with Unite’s survey of its lorry driving member conducted in 2019 which found that 81 per cent were experiencing fatigue, 57 per cent had been forced to stop in the past year due to excessive tiredness, and 31 per cent had made driving errors due to tiredness.

The Unite survey also found that 74 per cent of respondents said that long hours affected their physical health, half said it had affected their mental health and three quarters recorded it had affected their relationships and family life.

The survey’s full findings will be unveiled at an ETF conference held today (June 3).

Unite national officer Adrian Jones, who is speaking at the conference said, “The survey findings are stark and show that the drivers across Europe are experiencing the same problems as their counterparts in the UK.

“Excessive hours is not only making drivers ill but it is also endangering the safety of other road users,” Jones added.

“With growing shortages of drivers, made more severe by a lack of training of new recruits during the pandemic, these problems are only going to get worse.

“Any plan to relax the driving time regulations must be firmly resisted as this will endanger the safety of drivers and other road users,” Jones continued.

“Employers need to take a long hard look at themselves, if they want to attract new entrants the industry must become more attractive. They must stop flogging drivers to exhaustion and pay decent rates of pay.”

By Barckley Sumner

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